October 18, 2013
Do you know what got me interested in science as a child? Star Trek. That’s right, Star Trek. Star Trek: The Next Generation specifically. I never really had the opportunity to watch the series as it was originally intended until recently (thank you Netflix), but I was always a fan of the movies. Everything about their advanced science and technology was amazing; from their teleporters to the odd-looking visor that La Forge wore to compensate for his natural blindness to everything about the character of Data (my favorite by far) was incredible. However, the one bit of their technology that I was the biggest fan of, because I always thought it would be so cool to have one in real life, was the holodeck, their training/relaxation room that could create any image, any scenario, programmed inside of it.
Currently, we are still a long way off from such wonders, but we are growing ever closer. The recent(ish) switch to 1080p image quality and all the various forms of high-definition media are all steps on the path, and recently another step has been made. After all, what do you do after you have successfully developed something? You make it smaller. Researchers from various countries have recently found a way of shrinking down the size of our current projectors to one small enough that it could be implemented into smart-phones and other similarly sized devices. They have created a lensless zoom system, that could potentially be both smaller and more cost efficient than the projectors we have today.
Note that this system does not lack the ability to zoom in, but rather lacks the lens normally needed to do so, requiring only a laser and an LCD panel. They are able to do this thanks to holography, a way to produce images by using lasers to encode and display images. Holograms do not use lenses, so it made sense for researchers to look to them in order to shrink the existing technology, and the fact that the lack of a lens makes them cheaper is a nice bonus to throw on top. However, current magnification formula tends to cause some measure of distortion, so these same researchers have made some alterations to the standard formula, preserving the quality of the images.
Imagine how useful it would be to project high quality images from your smart-phone or tablet onto a wall. Rather than watching your favorite shows or videos on that tiny screen that fits in the palm of your hand, you could use that same device to get a full wide-screen experience. If you were not able to get your projector to work during a business meeting, you just set your phone and aim it at the screen. Done. Presentation saved. Sure, we may still be a long way from solid-light technology that can allow us to experience the 1920’s as though we were actually there, or initiate some sort of strange tribal ceremony (thank you, Mr. Worf), but we are getting there.
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