Well, are we on the road to screen obsoleteness??
Thin air about to replace viewing screens
Science fiction staple close to becoming scientific fact
By DAVID HO
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 03/13/04
NEW YORK -- In an age when viewing screens are becoming thinner and thinner, what could possibly come next?
A trade show visitor stands "inside" a screen made of a thin layer of moisture sandwiched between layers of air.
Perhaps no screen at all.
Once a conceit of movies like "Star Wars" and "Minority Report," the science-fiction staple of images floating in midair is becoming reality.
A handful of firms have rolled out devices that create moving 3-D images in crystal balls, hovering neon shapes manipulated with the flick of a finger, and ethereal video walls that shimmer as people stroll right through.
The gadgets are priced beyond the reach of the average consumer, but some have arrived in medical and industrial research and may next appear at arcades, amusement parks or as a new kind of advertising at the local mall.
Already making a splash at technology trade shows is FogScreen, a ceiling-mounted device that blows downward a thin wall of moisture sandwiched between layers of air. The fog, made from ordinary tap water, can be used much like a traditional projection screen.
Built and marketed by Finnish company FogScreen Inc., the $115,000 devices create viewing areas about 6 feet wide and 5 feet high.
"You can walk through these pictures we can project in the air, and we can make the screen appear and disappear in a few seconds," said FogScreen Chief Executive Mika Herpio.
Potential uses include advertising where customers amble through a company's product or logo, nightclub special effects, or a haunted house where visitors pass through virtual rooms or images of frightful creatures.
Herpio said the "dry fog" does not make its surroundings wet and strolling through it feels like nothing at all. An occasional drip of condensed fog may fall from the unit, but the company is working on the problem.
FogScreen is preparing to increase production, but currently the devices must be ordered three months in advance, Herpio said. So far, most of the company's business has come from renting out units for special events and exhibitions.
Despite the price, Herpio said he has received inquiries from individuals interesting in buying FogScreen for home entertainment and architects who want to incorporate ghostly walls into building designs.
Herpio said FogScreen will unveil a new interactive version in May that works like a touch screen, allowing people to manipulate floating images with their bare hands.
Promising a similar interactive experience without the fog is Heliodisplay from IO2Technology, a tabletop device about the size of a breadbox that projects smaller two-dimensional images into the air above it. It can be plugged into most video sources, including computers, DVD players and video game consoles.
Heliodisplay, the invention of M.I.T. grad student Chad Dyner, uses lasers to track the motion of hands or objects that approach its display, the company says. It translates those motions into commands without the need for special gloves or pointers.
"If you just want to watch TV, hang a plasma on the wall," said IO2Technology spokesman Bob Ely. "With the Heliodisplay, you can walk around, over or through the image. You can reach through the image. With your hands, you can grab, drag, manipulate and mold the image."
The Lake Forest, Ill.-based company has patents pending and is secretive about how Heliodisplay works. The company will only say that air ejected and illuminated by the device is modified in some fashion without the addition of any other chemicals or substances.
The company says it has created only three prototypes and has sold one to a large auto company.
It has taken a few orders for Heliodisplays with viewing areas equivalent to a 15-inch monitor and costing $18,600. The company will offer a model with a nearly 40-inch viewing area in June, Ely said.
Floating displays have novelty value and may turn heads in discos or airports, but makers of traditional computer screens have nothing to fear, said Chris Chinnock, president of Insight Media, a marketing research company that specializes in display technology.
"Why do I want to have this floating monitor?" Chinnock said. "Is it cool? OK. But do I want to pay a lot of money for that? Maybe. Am I going to use that as a working monitor? I doubt it."
Chinnock said that previous attempts to market floating display technology that used optical tricks to create the images failed to catch on. He said that while the new generation of displays uses other methods, the technology is still immature.
"That 3-D 'Princess Leia' TV kind of application" is still a way off, he said, referring to the famous special effect from the first "Star Wars" movie.
Taking another path beyond traditional screens, Actuality Systems, based in Burlington, Mass., has created its Perspecta 3-D System.
Within a 20-inch globe, miniature projectors display 10,000 images a second on a spinning screen, tailoring each picture to a specific position in the three-dimensional space. The effect tricks the eye into seeing 3-D objects in the same fashion that traditional hand-drawn animation uses a series of flat cels to simulate motion.
The device provides a "God's-eye view" of full-color, moving three-dimensional images without the need for special glasses, said Chief Executive Cameron Lewis.
Actuality Systems has sold 18 of the $40,000 machines to customers that include corporations, universities and the U.S. Army, Lewis said.
He said cancer specialists at the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center in Bethesda, Md., are using a Perspecta to view 3-D images of tumors to help plan surgeries.
Other potential applications include displaying 3-D security scans of luggage or simulations of the Earth.
Actuality Systems' next-generation product may get closer to the "Princess Leia" effect.
A prototype that uses the company's technology without the dome to seemingly project free-standing 3-D images or "holovideo" should be unveiled this fall, Lewis said.
The next frontier for the current technology appears to be three-dimensional video games, Lewis said. While the 3-D crystal balls are likely too big and expensive for home use, he said, the company is discussing with game developers how to best use an extra dimension in an arcade setting.
"A whole different environment emerges," Lewis said, describing players crowded around a game dome seeing different angles simultaneously. "You can imagine something like Pac Man or some of those other arcade games on steroids."