If you’re a science fiction fan—you are well familiar with holographic displays floating in midair. Maybe it’s Princess Leia materializing above R2-D2 or Tony Stark designing his Iron Man suit with a few cinematic flicks of the wrist.
In the real world, such technology has been difficult to perfect—but not for lack of trying.
Probably the closest we’ll get to these sci-fi visions in the near future are augmented reality systems like Microsoft’s Hololens or Magic Leap. But much of today’s technology requires you look through something (like a pair of goggles) to see those 3D images.
What if we could just project them in midair? Isn’t that what we really want?
There is, in fact, a technique that’s been in development for awhile to do just that. It works by focusing infrared laser pulses to briefly ionize the air, creating a light-emitting plasma.
The problem? Lasers, plasma, and humans don’t mix well.
In a new paper, however, researchers say they’ve created a laser-induced plasma display that is safe to touch. The key breakthrough? The team found that by reducing the length of the laser bursts from nanoseconds to femtoseconds—or a mere millionth of a billionth of a second—they could avoid causing damage to the skin.
Though still in the research phase—the necessary equipment is bulky and the images produced are small (no more than 8 cubic millimeters)—the resulting system, dubbed Fairy Lights, is still pretty magical.
Image Credit: Yoichi Ochiai / University of Tsukuba