Holographic Surgery? 3D Telepresence Advances at UofA

DICK AHLSTROM, Science Editor

RESEARCHERS HAVE found a way to capture three-dimensional images in one location and then recreate the images at another in full 3D with almost no time delay. The team says this is the first example of “3D telepresence” being achieved in real time.

The University of Arizona, Tucson, team led by Prof Nassar Peyghambarian believes its approach could allow brain surgeons on opposite sides of the earth to participate in a surgical procedure on a single patient.

The device would transmit a highly detailed, laser-produced 3D image to the remote surgeon who would be seeing the same view as the local surgeon. No special glasses would be needed to see the image and yet it would be delivered as full colour, 3D and viewable from any angle.

The holographic technique used by Prof Peyghambarian is described this morning in the journal Nature. Holographic images are typically static but in 2008 the same Arizona group managed to produce a “moving” updatable monochrome image using holography.

This could only update the image every four minutes but now they have greatly speeded this up, refreshing the moving image every two seconds, “making it the first to achieve a speed that can be described as quasi-real time”, Prof Peyghambarian and colleagues write. “Furthermore there is no need for any special eyewear to be worn by the observer.”

Devotes of the science fiction film classic Star Wars will have a sense of what 3D telepresence looks like. The original film had a short scene portraying a chess game, with the board squares occupied by moving 3D figures.

The film achieved this using animation, but Prof Peyghambarian’s approach is laser-based holography. This is very different to methods used in 3D cinema or television which depend on the use of special glasses.

Even so they show “the great enthusiasm that the public, media and industry share about 3D image rendering and for a good reason: the human physiology has adapted to observe its environment in three dimensions”, the authors write.

Holography was particularly effective because it allows the observer “to perceive the light as it would have been scattered by the real object itself”, they added.

Their device uses 16 cameras taking simultaneous laser-lit pictures of a real 3D scene and delivers these images to a purpose-built transparent screen that displays the multicoloured images.

Prof Peyghambarian believes the technique will have uses in telemedicine, advertising, updatable 3D maps and entertainment.

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