Holograms offer military better view of battlefield

Future applications likely to address communications, planning and bomb disposal needs

There’s no arguing that some critical battlefield information would be better understood when viewed in three dimensions rather than two.

The desire to enable the U.S. military to view such information via holograms is the driving force behind a number of research projects under way at some of the nation’s top universities and imaging companies, reports David Axe at Danger Room blog.

While holographic weapons are not yet under development, researchers are developing capabilities that will enable the military to use holograms for battlefield intelligence, military planning and explosives disposal purposes.

Researchers at the University of Arizona have demonstrated moving holograms that are filmed in one spot and viewed in another spot, reports Anne Eisenberg at the New York Times. The achievement is similar to what Star Wars moviegoers saw when R2D2 displayed for Luke Skywalker a hologram of Princess Leia pleading for help. The main difference is that existing technology displays the image a lot more haltingly, as the display changes only every two seconds.

The university’s hologram is created by a suite of 16 cameras that use lasers to record data on smart plastic. When the plastic is illuminated by a special light, the data is projected as a 3D hologram. 

A partner research team at Columbia University is studying ways to beam holographic data via the Internet to allow 3D chats or the transmission of maps, blueprints or medical scans.

It might be another decade before some of these applications are affordable or widespread, researchers said.

However, one such application is already being used by the Defense Department. Zebra Imaging, of Austin, Texas, provides two-by-three-foot plastic holographic maps to the DOD. The military sends data to the company, and receives in return holographic displays of battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan. The image is activated with a custom-made LED flashlight.

Another use for Zebra’s holographic imaging technology is for post-blast roadside bomb forensics, according to the company's Web site. By using a 3D hologram, analysts would be better able to understand the nature and construction of the device than if they had viewed it in 2D.

About the Author

William Welsh is a freelance writer covering IT and defense technology.

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