Leave it to the Japanese to take technology up a notch: their scientists have recently created touchable holograms, or three dimensional virtual objects that can be sensed by the human hand.

Japanese researchers developed a "Fairy Lights" system that can fire high-frequency laser pulses traveling at a millionth of a billionth of a second, made possible through femtosecond laser technology. The pulses are responsive to human touch such that the pixels of the hologram can be manipulated in mid-airat any point in the air.

"You can't actually feel the videos or pictures, and although you can project a video, you can't interact with it by touching it. So, if we can project an image in a three dimensional form, and if you can touch it, then you can make something where you'll think that there actually is something there,"  explained Dr. Yoichi Ochiai from Tsukuba University of the touchable hologram.

Combined with mirrors and cameras, the rapid, high-intensity lasers direct tiny light points called voxels in certain directions to produce images of up to 200,000 dots per second of resolution.

Dr. Ochiai, a media artist who formerly had a one-man band and a voracious user of Microsoft’s 3D Moviemaker as a child, added that there are practical benefits if humans can interact with a bigger laser in a bigger space, such as for three-dimensional communication in medicine, construction, and entertainment.

Previous attempts at touchable or interactive hologram failed. While they were successfully demonstrated, the laser beams burned human skin when they touched.

Science website Pulse Headlines said that further innovation can make it possible to produce a computer keyboard with light beamed onto human laps, allow video chats featuring a person’s virtual touch or control the fragments of virtual reality games with the sense of touch.

Dr. Ochiai presented the research paper (PDF) entitled "Fairy Lights in Femtoseconds: Aerial and Volumetric Graphics Rendered by Focused Femtosecond Laser Combined with Computational Holographic Fields" at the Siggraph 2015 conference last August in Los Angeles with his fellow scientists from Utsunomiya University Center for Optical Research and Education, Nagoya Institute of Technology and The University of Tokyo.

Watch the video presentation of the technology below.


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