Raw Japan

Slices of Japanese business, politics and life

3D images you can touch

September 28, 2009

In Sci-Fi films, there’s one thing you never see people use: a mouse and keyboard. In our 21st century world, technology is supposed to have advanced to where all you need to do is talk to a computer for it to respond.

Well, reality may now be catching up with fantasy as a Tokyo University research team takes the first step towards redefining how we interact with electronic machines.

Taking a page from Steven Spielberg’s “Minority Report”, they’ve made 3D holograms that you not only can see, but touch.


Three-dimensional images are nothing new, as anyone who has a credit card will likely have a hologram on the card to prevent forgery, but they’ve been no more than optical tricks up to this point.

“Up until now, holography has been for the eyes only, and if you tried to touch it, your hand would go right through, but now we have a technology that adds the sensation of touch,” Hiroyuki Shinoda, a professor at Tokyo University and one of the developers of the technology, explained when asked about the invention.

An emitter that delivers localised pressure on a surface matched to where the hologram is projected tricks the brain into thinking the pressure comes from the object that appears to be there.

The equipment for tracking hand movements can be found at any electronics store, as the team uses Nintendo’s Wiimote to track where users’ hands are. 

At this point in development, the researchers were only able to show falling rain drops and a tiny elephant that scurries around on one’s hand.

In the future, though, Shinoda hopes to redefine interfaces and move from actual physical switches to virtual holographic ones. The most immediate application of this could be to give hospital workers a common terminal they can use without fear of cross-contamination.

Further out, Shinoda hopes the holograms could be used as an eco-friendly interface, with buttons appearing when you need them and disappearing when you don’t, wasting no real materials.

For everyone waiting for holographic light switches, this really could put the future within reach.

Photo credit: REUTERS/Chris Meyers

Post Your Comment

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/