Remember the shark of Jaws 19, the movie playing in a Holomax Theater that appears in Back to The Future: Part II? Or the Holodeck of Star Trek: The Next Generation? Or the chess game in Star Wars?
Holograms—the 3D computer generated images that look a lot like real life—still aren't ubiquitous, but you can get one in your living room thanks to the startup Voxon and its flagship product, the Voxiebox.
The technology behind the Voxiebox was created by an international group of engineers and science fiction fans. It started more than 30 years ago when Alan Jackson was asked by the New York Hall of Science to create a 3D rendering of an atom.
Jackson recruited Sean Kean and Sandira Calviac, who is now the company's 34-year-old CEO. The trio joined forces with Gavin Smith and Will Tamblyn of Australia who were working independently on holograms. This group worked on the hardware for three years, then added Ken Silverman, who wrote the build engine for Duke Nukem 3D, to handle the software.
The Voxiebox apparatus is a black box a little bigger than two shoe boxes put together with a rectangular void at the top. That miniature stage is where the holograms appear. The box has a transparent lid, and you can see the hologram with the lid off or on. It's "3D content from any angle, full 360 degrees, as well as top and bottom and without the need for goggles or headgear," Calviac said.
For a demo, Calviac shut off all the lights in a room. A colleague held up a blanket to block additional light as the colorful projections in the Voxiebox came to life. (Note: this was for the benefit of a photographer; the Voxiebox projections can be seen in full daylight.)
The holograms are vibrant, detailed, and—perhaps most impressive—they move. Calviac called up a dragon, which flapped and turned on its axis. She also showed a group of dancers, a butterfly, and a globe, among other objects.
The Voxiebox works by aiming lasers at a screen that moves rapidly up and down. It's based on Jackson's original atom at the Hall of Science. "The first installation took up a room," he told Mashable. "It was a series of optics and lenses and high tech scanners that were able to deflect a laser beam at high speed. That laser beam projected on a moving screen."
Voxiebox is not the only company developing volumetric displays to show holograms. There are a few others entrepreneurs involved in this technology, like Soscho Bollograph, LightSpace Technologies, Holoverse, Felix 3D, Holografika and 3D Icon, among others. (And of course, there's Hologram USA, which resurrects celebrities and sends them on tour.)
The Voxiebox team is now inviting artists and developers to create their own renderings for the Voxiebox. A set designer from HBO will use the device to render designs in real time, for example. "His job is to design three sets a week," Calviac said. "Today he is using a combo of styrofoam and a flat screen TV to show what really should be in 3D. Now he can just go through a bunch of sets and have the film crew around it and discuss it and debate it."
The Voxiebox can be controlled with joysticks, keyboards, or even a Leap Motion controller, Calviac said.
The company doesn't want to say much at this point, but Calviac told me the team is working with Hollywood filmmakers in a multimedia show ("They put together a show where they had the Voxiebox and they were using it as a kind of a dashboard, so the audience were able to interact with it through gesture control") and also with a group of light painters from France.
There are also music apps for the Voxiebox, and some artists are approaching them to do live concerts. "We have strong ties to New York, which is a multidimensional city," she says. "There's a lot of artists and is a great place for this interaction to happen. I think we realized pretty soon that this is a new medium, a new way for people to express themselves beyond passively watch something."
The Voxiebox team is working in other prototypes, including a video chat application that uses a Kinect to scan your face and show it in 3D to your interlocutor, and a Snake-like video game with depth and multiplayer.
Voxiebox plans to release a beta version for developers as soon as the end of the year. That holographic chess game may be upon us really soon.