Scientists in Tokyo have demonstrated what they say is the world's first 3D projection that floats in mid air. A laser that fires a pulse up to a thousand times a second superheats molecules in the air, creating a spark which can be guided to certain points in the air to shape what the human eye perceives as an image. Matthew Stock reports.
To create this three-dimensional image of a butterfly floating in mid-air, hundreds of air molecules are being superheated by a laser until they cause a spark. Unveiled at Tokyo's Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation, the makers of the 3D display project call it a world first. Their machine fires an infrared pulse laser up to 1,000 times a second. A mirror then pinpoints the laser to heat molecules in the air, causing a series of sparks which form shapes that the human eye perceives as an image. Co-developer Akira Asano said the 1995 Kobe earthquake impelled him to develop the idea as a means of projecting critical information to the public when regular infrastructure collapses. (SOUNDBITE) (Japanese) AKIRA ASANO, 3D DISPLAY PROJECT CO-DEVELOPER, SAYING: "We were thinking that if we could combine audio information transmitted through loudspeakers and visual information, we could keep people informed and reduce secondary disasters during times of crisis. We then wondered where we would display the words and we decided, if we showed it in the air, everyone can see it. That was how this project started." The images the 3D display projects are rudimentary. But Asana and co-developer Hidei Kimura say the quality will improve as the technology evolves. They're working to reduce the size of the machine and hope it will one day be small enough to fit in the palm of the hand, spreading information quickly to those in need.