February 9, 2022
By Keith Shaw
Holograms in the world of film have been around for a long time, whether it’s Princess Leia asking Obi-Wan for help in the original Star Wars, or Tony Stark using a computer-generated 3D display to build a new Iron Man suit in a Marvel movie. But making these technologies for the real world have proven difficult, or companies have yet to find suitable use cases that make them practical.
Holo Industries is aiming to change this by combining the concept of holographic displays with the ability to create a touchscreen that reacts to fingers or gestures in a 3D physical space. The best example of a useful application of the technology is a bank ATM that lets users punch in their PIN “in the air” without touching a screen’s display.
In the wake of COVID concerns, touchless technology like this should generate interest in this approach, but this could also be applied to displays on robots. For example, many autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) that are used in warehouse environments include touch screen displays, as do last-mile delivery robots that bring customers groceries or restaurant orders. Giving people the ability to use a holographic display to confirm the delivery or open the robot can give robot developers a unique differentiator to those systems that use displays that might be hard to read in dark or require them to be cleaned after each delivery.
Holo Industries is the inventor of Holographic Touch, a technology that combines holographic plates, optics, sensors and proprietary software and hardware components to create this mid-air interaction experience. Products and form factors include the aforementioned ATM display, but they are also being developed for elevators, restaurants, retail, hospitality, gaming and medical scenarios. (A full datasheet is available here.)
The company has partnered with Japan-based Asukanet, which develops the holographic plate technology, to further develop this concept. Asukanet is also an investor in Holo Industries.
Glenn ImObersteg, one of the co-founders of Holo Industries, said there is a big difference between what companies developed in the wake of seeing holograms in Iron Man or Minority Report, and what Holo Industries is currently developing. “The difference here is that there are no glasses required, there’s no special lighting or fog needed. It’s a very, very simple and economical way to have holographic touch in midair on any screen or device,” said ImObersteg.
The problem with other solutions is that they were often created for gaming platforms or systems that wanted complete 3D mobility. “What we’re creating is a holograph that you can actually interact with. You can spin it,” he continued. “At CES, we connected our holographic screens to a computer running Google Earth, and people could spin the earth, pinch and zoom in or out to see places like Dubai or Frankfurt. Everything you could do on a touchscreen you can now do in midair.”
ImObersteg said the company is open to a lot of new ideas on how the technology could be used, especially in the field of robotics, such as warehouse robots or delivery robots. “A delivery robot makes sense, because it comes to the door and it has a touchscreen and you accept the delivery, but you don’t know where the robot’s been,” said ImObersteg. “I hate to say that sounds like something your mother would say, but it’s true that the robot doesn’t necessarily get cleaned and scrubbed out every time it makes a delivery. So turning it into a holographic display means the customer would never have to touch the robot.”
In addition, the Holo Industries technology works with users that wear gloves, so these could be used in manufacturing settings and robots. “Anybody working on a factory floor that is wearing work gloves can connect with the holographic interface without having to worry about greasy screens or the grime on the screen,” said ImObersteg. “Think about when you go to an auto shop and they’re using the same keyboard day after day, and you think about the build-up there. That’s what’s nice about holographic technology, is you can eliminate a lot of these issues.”
For more details on Holo Industries and its technologies, visit its website here.
Keith Shaw is the managing editor of Robotics World.