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VR Interfaces: The Heliodisplay


Overview of The Heliodisplay

Image Courtesy 20th Century Fox
Remember StarWars? That iconic moment when the hologram of Princess Leia is projected from R2 D2? Or, in fact, any star wars hologram projection since then? Appearing fully formed in thin air, shimmering with the haze?

Heliodisplay, first created in 2003, is that technology made real. It is literally, the production of holograms that hover in thin air.

The original display system was the size of a coffee table, a hulking great thing that dominated a room, and was too large for practical business use.

More modern variants have continually shrunk, producing models the size of OHP projectors and below. As they have shrunk, the cost of producing has come down, untl the current viability for purchase was obtained.

The technology involved is relatively simple to explain. A projection system, specifically designed, is focused onto the mist and particle suspension that occurs naturally in air, bouncing lights off of the particles and creating a floating image. Nothing save a slight mist of water, added to the air in this process. The water usage is such that on the original prototype, a litre of water would be good for four hours. In refinement, modern variants will use a litre of water in 20 hours of continuous usage. One of the newer features, a self-sustaining-module, actually draws humidity from the air, to use to fuel the image display. In a normal office environment, it will keep running indefinitely, with no more maintenance than the photocopier.

One of the quirks of the display is that areas that would normally be dark on a projection screen, appear invisible on a heliodisplay - you see straight through the air to whatever is behind the display. This is what creates the same graphic effect as was seen in the old Star Wars films.

The image is however, not 3D. It is a 2D image suspended in the air. Walking round it, it is possible to see this effect as the image becomes narrower until it disappears from sight at an angle 0f 75 degrees to either side. It is also inadvisable to peer down into a heliodisplay's projection slit as that is a powerful light source, and will damage eyesight. The best way to view the image is straight on, or from below, not from above, for this reason. Still, even looked at from an oblique angle, images are about as bright as the first-generation rear projection TV's. Colours render in full colour, and text is legible, although image definition and fidelity are not comparable to conventional displays such as the CRT. The granularity is definitely noticeable.

As an additional effect, it is possible to use a heliodisplay as a touchscreen by hooking it up to a computer system with a camera. The heliodisplay's own software will handle the delicate task of gesture recognition in 3D space, tracking the user's hand as it bisects the image, and moving the image in accordance to hand positions - holding and turning objects in the display for example. Additionally, pens, pointing objects, and even lumps of wood can be used to tap parts of the display to rotate.

Currently, distribution of the Heliodisplay originates dfrom Poland, in the EU. 30 inch and 55 inch versions are available.



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