The future has let us down in so many ways—still waiting on that jet pack you promised, Hollywood!—but this sweet new gadget should tide us over for a little while, at least. Straight out of Star Trek, it was demonstrated at last month’s SPAR 2010 conference in Houston by Austin-based company Zebra Imaging. The technology produces strikingly realistic holographic models, printed on two-dimensional sheets of plastic. Each hologram is the product of thousands of still images, stored in any format from satellite photographs to (calling all architects!) CAD models. These images are then compiled and printed onto a sheet of photographic film up to two feet wide and three feet long. When illuminated from above, a full color, high-resolution 3-D model appears to project up from the flat sheet. You can walk around the display and view it from different angles, and the model seems solid enough that you feel like you could reach out and wrap your hand around a tower or poke your finger into a window.
The technology is still new, but architects have begun experimenting with using it for both planning and promotional purposes, to convey a sense of massing and relative scale that could otherwise could only be achieved with a time-consuming, unwieldy physical model. Zebra Imaging says the technology is also proving useful to product designers—as well as the US Military, which has already purchased thousands of geospatial maps. Zebra reports that their next step is to find a way to link the hologram to the computer so that you can change the data and watch the 3-D model morph correspondingly in real time. Very cool, Zebra—when you’re done with that, can you get cracking on the holodeck we’ve all been looking forward to?