Forget light sabers. Researchers on Earth have invented something far flashier: a Star Wars–like 3D display that simultaneously projects video, sound, and even the sensation of touch. The new displays can’t create holograms as complex as Princess Leia’s famous distress call. But with further improvements, they could transform virtual reality, providing users a multisensory experience without headsets or other cumbersome gear.
“They did an amazing job with this,” says Asier Marzo, a computer scientist at the University of Navarra in Pamplona, Spain, who was not involved with the work. Future versions, he says, could give doctors 3D views of tumors inside the body or provide soldiers with an accurate depiction of what lies ahead. “It has the potential to revolutionize the display ecosystem,” Marzo says.
There are already many ways to create 3D movies, including headsets that project a sequence of slightly different images to our two eyes to fool us into experiencing the sensation of depth. A newer, less-cumbersome alternative projects laser light on a vibrating screen, giving viewers the impression of seeing a moving 3D image. But it can’t project sound. And if viewers try to touch the images, they could wind up with nasty burns from the laser light.