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Fairy Lights: Holograms You Can Touch!

You may remember a post we did about a company called Aerial Burton, who was using lasers to ionize air molecules in mid air, the result of which created brightly floating holograms. One of the problems with the system was the intensity of the lasers could cause significant burns if the user were to interact with the laser light. Now, a new system scheduled to be presented at SIGGRAPH 2015 has reduced the power with femtosecond lasers, allowing users to actually interact with the mid air images.

From the authors:

´┐╝Our system has the unique characteristic that the plasma is touchable. It was found that the contact between plasma and a finger causes a brighter light. This effect can be used as a cue of the contact. One possible control is touch interaction in which floating images change when touched by a user. The other is damage reduction. For safety, the plasma voxels are shut off within a single frame (17 ms = 1/60 s) when users touch the voxels. This is sufficiently less than the harmful exposure time (2,000 ms).

One of the most impressive results of the system is that not only are they safe to touch and walk through, but they can impart considerable forces on your skin, essentially creating nice haptic sensations you can feel. You can actually feel the holograms floating in front of you! Mind blown.


We’ve been following volumetric displays for a while (e.g., fog table), but this takes them to the next level. So many new interface experiences come to mind, especially if they can scale up the core technology to generate larger floating images. Definitely keep an eye on these guys. Truly magical!