Haptic Holography: The Next Mind-Blowing Technology

Michael Page
Michael Page / Michael Page

Young people have had fun with the older generations, watching them struggle to wrap their heads around modern technology. It’s funny at times (like when they try to text) and frustrating at others (if you’re anything like me, you help your mother troubleshoot the wireless printer via telephone at least three times a year). But you can’t hold their confusion against them. Things truly have changed—my grandfather can remember the commercial release of televisions—and guess what? It’s only going to get crazier in the future.

While there are numerous examples of soon-to-come expanding consumer technology, “haptic holography” will be part of the next wave that will change the way we live and entertain ourselves. To understand exactly what that means and what it entails, we need to break down the concept.

“Haptic” devices, defined as things that communicate nonverbally via the sense of touch, have existed for a few decades. A modern day example would be a gaming controller that vibrates to communicate something happening on the screen, such as a running back being tackled in a game of Madden or an explosion in a first-person shooter.

Haptic holograms, therefore, will be ones that humans can interact with. Remember the hologram of Tupac? That was a hologram (obviously), it just wasn’t haptic—no one could interact with it. If you had walked up to it and tried to touch it, your hand would have passed right through it. But now research is being conducted on the idea of “mutual touching,” where a human can reach out and physically touch a hologram. The human would also feel a sensation in return, such as their hand being squeezed by the hologram. Basically, it would amount to a robotic interaction without all the metal gears.

Once perfected, this technology will have far-reaching practical benefits, from entertainment all the way to advances in medicine. For example, medical students would be able to practice surgical procedures on a hologram, experimenting first on an “enlarged” version of the human body and slowly reducing it down to normal size as they become more comfortable with the surgery.

In terms of entertainment, holographic video would allow us to view a sporting event from different angles in a way unlike anything we experience today. Think of it this way: Right now, if we’re sitting on the left side of a theater watching a 3D movie, there would be no change in what we saw if we moved over to the right side. With holographic video, moving to the other side of the theater would give you a different vantage point on the same image. Thus, if a hockey game was viewed in holographic video, you could watch the same goal being scored from multiple angles by simply changing your position in the room, according to Michael Page, a professor at OCAD University in Toronto who has been researching holography for 30 years.

“I have to say that holograms pretty much have to be seen firsthand to believe,” Page says. “Most people have not seen our technology.”

So when will we see it? Page says that within three years we will have haptic gaming systems on the market that are affordable, both in the form of consoles and via the iPad and smart phones. He said that holographic musical instruments, such as drum kits, are already being tested and that medical simulations are not far off. And it only seems reasonable to assume that once nonverbal haptic holograms are perfected, the next step will of course be verbal interaction.

Yes, our imaginary friends might indeed not be so imaginary in the future.