3D Volumetric Displays vs Augmented Reality

Last week, Microsoft made a splash when it unveiled a head-mounted 3D display technology that will be introduced to consumers with the release of Windows 10 in mid-2015. The Holographic augmented reality system combines advances in software, sensors, and a self-contained HoloLens wearable computer. HoloLens, a pair of computing glasses that projects holographs in front of a viewer's eyes, allows the user to observe and manipulate the environment they see in front of them.

Naturally, there have been questions about how this announcement changes the landscape of 3D technology, particularly to 3DIcon. While innovative, it's important to make note that the technology Microsoft has revealed still is not a true 3D display. It is an illusion of 3D that is provided along with other forms of sensory feedback such as sound, video, graphics, or GPS data to create a live, direct, or indirect interactive view of a physical, real-world environment. In essence, it serves as a technology that enables a mouse to go from 2D to 3D. The technology has been well known for a while now - CNET wrote this article in 2013 - and is proving useful in gaming, training, arts, marketing new products, and even archaeology.

While the announcement by Microsoft is significant for consumers interested in a new way of computer interaction, it may have less significance, at least in the near term, to the professional user. Unlike consumers, the professional user performs critical decision making that requires a much higher level of accuracy in data representation, and resulting computing power, than can be provided by even holographic systems in a useable and affordable format. The professional user also requires the ability to directly interact with other professionals in a glasses-free environment without the distractions that an augmented reality system might create. While only one individual can utilize an augmented reality system at a time, a 3D volumetric display can be viewed and interacted with by many people at once. These capabilities, high resolution and glasses-free, are unique to 3D volumetric displays and the technology being developed by 3DIcon.

Much like the Microsoft Holographic augmented reality system, a glasses-free 3D volumetric system will ultimately require a display and a method for the user to interact with the image created. A number of competing technologies continue to be considered for user interaction with objects displayed in 3D with those recording gaze, voice, and hand-gestures considered the most natural. Developers of 3D volumetric displays, including 3DIcon, will continue to benefit from 3D technologies being introduced by Microsoft and others.