Back in 2010, an article in Computer World magazine quoted Paul Bloom, IBM’s Chief Technology Officer, offering this prediction – “We see 3D video technology moving into the cell phone, which will have the ability to transmit information off the cell phone to create a 3D hologram, projecting the hologram on any surface in life size.” Bloom elaborated on the social and technical aspects this technology might improve, like the ability of a technician to see a malfunctioning system in holographic real time, thereby greatly enhancing diagnosis and repair. While it might seem strange to many that IBM would be conducting smartphone research, it’s actually not; although they don’t make them currently, IBM arguably produced the first one – Introduced at the 1992 COMDEX, the IBM Simon phone was the first to include PDA functions; it was briefly marketed to consumers through BellSouth. (Remember Bell?)
Yet here we are three quarters of the way through 2015, and those bold predictions are nowhere to be seen – no smartphone holography – Yet. Do a Google search for ‘IBM Cell Phone Holographic Research 2015,’ and what you get is a whole raft of 2010 sources featuring that same set of predictions from 2010 – Consumer Reports, Gizmodo, Bloomberg, DailyTech, and so on – And not one high priority search return showing actual current research.
Check the website for IBM’s Almaden Research Center, the one quoted as leading the charge in that 2010 piece and you see…. Nada; not one primary topic devoted to cell phone holography. Subsequent drill down searches through the headings of Science and Technology, Cognitive Solutions and Foundations, and Accelerated Discovery for Industry Solutions also came up blank.
Remove IBM from that search, making it ‘Cell Phone Holographic Research 2015,’ and you still get a bunch of those cloned 2015 articles, with a few interesting additions. One of those is a cool little trick for making your own cell phone holographic projector out of an old CD case. It’s nifty, but it’s still just a parlor trick with a smartphone, a reflected 2D image. Nonetheless, just like that 2010 article, every tech and science and interesting stuff website, and news source has published a version of the trick. That said, one big unanswered questions still looms – why aren’t there functional holographic projections from cell phones in 2015? The problem, unsurprisingly, is size.
The holographic method was invented in the 1940s by the Hungarian Physicist Gábor Dénes, for which he won the 1971 Nobel Prize for Physics. His work piggybacked on X-ray microscopy research conducted in the 1920s and ’30s. The discovery was, in fact, an unanticipated result of research intended to improve the quality of electron microscopy.
A real hologram is a recorded light field converted into a truly three dimensional image, and it doesn’t require hacked up CD cases, funky glasses, or any other adjuncts to be seen. Laser generated holograms provide images of a clarity and detail that they’re virtually indistinguishable from the real thing. The problem for cell phone generated holography is the fact that high quality holography requires multiple lasers and mirrors, things you’re simply not going to get on a cell phone. Yet, that is – Not yet.
Successful cell phone holography will make big bucks for the first producers. Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, and AMD, among others, are spending billions of dollars to win that race. Yet all those heavy hitters may well get beat by a small, California based startup called Ostendo; they’ve spent the majority of the last decade quietly developing a cutting edge chip system under the guidance of CEO and Founder Doctor Hussein El-Ghoroury.
In 1998, El-Ghoroury sold his previous company, Commquest Technologies, a mobile chipset maker, to none other than IBM. He took the proceeds from that sale and started Ostendo, with the primary intention of developing viable 3D smartphone based holography, and he’s almost there. Ostendo’s QPI chipsets fit comfortably in the palm of a hand, definitely scaled for integration into existing smartphone designs. Late this year, the first commercial iteration of the QPI, a 2D model, will ship; the follow up chipset, expected in early 2016, will feature full 3D holographic capability. A single QPI chip is capable of projecting images up to 48″ diagonal in size; ganged sets will be capable of far larger imagery.
El-Ghoroury has said, speaking on the status of cell phone technology as it currently exists, “Display is the last frontier.” It appears that his company is poised to cross that threshold.