IN A FAMOUS scene from the original Star Wars, R2-D2 and Chewbacca play a game of chess on a board where 3-D pieces battle. Twenty-five years after the movie, holographic virtual displays capable of similar effects may be just around the corner.
Resembling a psychic’s crystal ball or one of those “lightning in a globe” toys, the Actuality Systems’ Perspecta Spatial 3-D Platform may be both prophetic and electric. The Burlington, Mass.-based company began as an entry by Actuality founder and CTO Gregg Favalora in the MIT $50K Entrepreneurship Competition (it was a $10K winner). The current version consists of a 10-inch spherical display and a software environment that lets standard PCs take advantage of holographic imaging (the system supports the OpenGL graphics standard as well as a proprietary application program interface).
The display has already piqued the interest of the military for its obvious tactical applications, but Favalora says that Perspecta could support a variety of uses. Doctors could view CAT scans in full 3-D rather than relying on slices or “virtual 3-D” rotations on a flat screen. Manufacturers could create and demonstrate virtual prototypes of products. Drug manufacturers could visually explore proteins while looking for disease treatments. And, of course, computer game players would love it.
Unfortunately for gamers, the Perspecta Platform is still in its early stages and requires a number of improvements before it could become a widespread product?with reduced pricing being near the top of that list. The current iteration runs at about $50,000 for one display and software, though Favalora says that efficiencies of scale and Moore’s Law could work to quickly reduce that price.
Technological advances will help too. Today’s Perspecta supports only hundreds of simultaneous colors (typical PC monitors support thousands). The display could also be brighter?Favalora admits that the current model works best in a dimly lit room. But, he notes, the second generation of the display is nearly complete and will begin to resolve some of those issues.