It’s one of those grandiose ideas that gets bandied about by Pentagon scientists and pops up in the press every few years. The “Face of Allah” weapon would beam a massive, lifelike hologram over a battlefield, projecting the image of some deity “to incite fear in soldiers on a battlefield,” according to one researcher.
We last checked in on holographic weapons research two years ago, when the University of New Hampshire was working on some Pentagon-funded projects. Since then, another university team has turned holograms into a reality — but not as tools of war. Not yet, at least.
Optical scientist Nasser Peyghambarian and his teammates at the University of Arizona have demonstrated what The New York Times calls “actual moving holograms that are filmed in one spot and then projected and viewed in another spot.” The Times likens the holograms to the tiny image of Princess Leia that R2D2 showed Luke Skywalker in the beginning of Star Wars, only “a lot more haltingly, as the display changes only every two seconds.”
Peyghambarian’s hologram is created by a suite of 16 cameras that use lasers to record data on “smart” plastic some distance away that, when hit by a special light, project the image in solid-looking 3D. A partner team at Columbia University is studying ways to beam the holo-data via the Internet, to allow 3D video chats or instantaneous transmission of holographic maps, blueprints or medical scans. Peyghambarian said it might take a decade for the technology to become affordable and widespread. Weaponization would be much further behind (though we wouldn’t bet on today’s cash-strapped military to invest in a Face-of-Allah gun). Cost aside, it’s just not very PC.
Early holograms are already a fixture in military headquarters, according to the Times article. A company called Zebra Imaging in Texas has been selling 2-by-3-foot plastic holographic maps to the Pentagon — its “main customer” — for $1,000 to $3,000 a pop. The military “sends data in computer files to the company. Zebra then renders holographic displays of, for example, battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan.” No goofy 3D glasses required, just a custom-made LED flashlight that “activates” the image encoded in the plastic.
Zebra’s technology has other military applications, such as post-blast IED forensics, according to the company’s Website. “Analysts trying to understand the nature and construction of an explosive device … are able to understand the scene in 3D far better than the classic 2D ‘bird’s-eye view.’”