Germany’s Circus Roncalli has a rich history. It has been one of the most prominent names on the European circus circuit since its inception in 1976. This June, however, it created a different sort of history, replacing its animal acts with 3D projections, or holograms.

There were no real-life jumbo elephants or galloping horses wowing the crowds. Instead, the Roncalli performers were accompanied by holographic projections of elephants, horses and gigantic fish. Eleven laser projectors were used. This was a step away from the web of wildlife abuse and animal cruelty in the circus world, but it also shows how holograms are now being used increasingly for real-world applications.

It was in 1948 that Hungarian-British physicist Dennis Gabor discovered holograms while working on methods to improve the quality of electron microscopes. Today, holograms have become one of the most exciting facets of visual display technology and digital communication.

For most people, the understanding of a hologram is restricted to the security labels, also known as rainbow holograms, printed on the back of a phone’s battery or those embossed on credit cards. These holograms are also a security feature on many currency notes.

But today’s three-dimensional holograms are created with the help of laser beams. Holography is the technique of capturing the light produced by laser beams and presenting it in a 3D format. Unlike the rainbow holograms, 3D holograms can be seen from every angle. You can walk around a 3D holographic image. For instance, the projectors used at the Circus Roncalli performance had 360-degree projection capabilities. Hence, they were visible to everyone sitting at different viewing angles in the 32m-wide arena.

There have already been many exciting applications of 3D hologram technology. In 2014, for instance, then prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi addressed more than 800 rallies across the nation in hologram form. His party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, deployed the same technology in the Lok Sabha election campaign earlier this year.

Video-conferencing is an area where 3D holograms are expected to have a huge impact going forward. Old-school video calls will soon be out of fashion if 3D teleconferencing systems like the TeleHuman 2—created by researchers at the Human Media Lab at Queen’s University, Canada—go mainstream.



An interesting use case for the technology has also emerged in the education sector. For instance, the Imperial College Business School in London conducted the world’s first holographic university lecture in November, with speakers beamed into a live event from locations as far away as Los Angeles. They appeared in 3D and were able to take questions from students.

In the world of medicine, holographic imaging, virtual reality and augmented reality are being clubbed to teach human anatomy. Some early use cases have been built on Microsoft’s HoloLens platform, and enable students to wear a VR headset and study the human body, the organs and systems, virtually. This has been demonstrated in two separate case studies: a collaboration between Imperial College London’s School of Medicine, the Leiden University Medical Center, Netherlands, and the California Health Sciences University.

It won’t be too long before holograms find their way to smart devices as well. Researchers at the Missouri University of Science and Technology recently created a method that could be used to design smartwatches and other smart devices with holographic displays.

According to an official release, researchers can “reconstruct holographic images by using a single two-dimensional material monolayer with the thickness of less than one nanometer". This could lead, the release adds, to the creation of smartwatches with holographic displays, printed security cryptograms on bank notes and credit cards, and new possibilities for data storage.

The onset of 5G (improved speed and lower latency) is also expected to give hologram technology a boost. According to the Ericsson Consumer Lab 5G Consumer Potential report published in May, 30% of smartphone users want future 5G smartphones to come with a hologram projector. The report surveyed users aged 15-69 from 22 countries, including India. The same users also expect 3D hologram calling to become a mainstream service on 5G-enabled devices in one-three years, once 5G becomes the norm globally.

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