No glasses, no headset, no smartphone - it is possible to produce 3D images that observers can view without cumbersome props. Base these displays on input from medical imaging devices and you could have the makings of a powerful new way to view patient scans. Holography holds the key, says an innovative SME that is developing this technology with EU support.
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Scottish hard-tech company Holoxica is developing a 3D video device that generates live holograms based on input from computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanners.
Instead of viewing patient scans in a mere two dimensions, doctors who have access to this innovation would be able to examine three-dimensional (3D) representations of scanned organs in real time. They could also use these displays to explain their findings to their patients, or plan surgery.
Holoxica CEO Javid Khan expects this advance to improve the quality of diagnostics and treatment while saving hospitals time and money. Studies estimate that surgery, for example, would be about 15 % faster and about 20 % better in terms of incisions, stitching, and so forth. This type of display could also be used for teaching and training purposes.
3D in a new light
Khan hopes to have a demonstrator of this pioneering new technique up and running in a hospital before 2018. This achievement will mark a new milestone for technology he started developing eight years ago or so in his cellar, in a bid to devise a way to produce 3D images that wouldnt require viewers to fiddle with glasses.
I always wondered why the ideal 3D display as promised to us by science fiction had never actually materialised, and I wanted to fix that, he explains. And, together with the colleagues and partners that have since joined him in this quest, he has certainly made a lot of progress. While the iconic applications of science fiction remain out of reach, notably because of the staggering computing power and bandwidth they would require, what has been achieved has the thrill of actually being real.
We decided to approach this like display engineers, he explains. In displays, you start with a single dot in space, and you do something to it. You put a current on it and it changes state goes dark, or begins to glow. And you build it up from this single voxel the equivalent of a pixel in 3D space into 4, then 16 and so on.
In this new phase of its research, Holoxica is aiming for displays within a volume of space composed of millions of voxels. We engineer nanostructures to persuade the light to bend and form images in free space or in mid-air. Basically a display is nothing more than a bunch of dots all next to each other, and its just a case of arranging these dots to form 3D images.
Khan makes it sound very easy. Its not. There are less than 10 companies worldwide that can deliver this kind of 3D image, he observes. There are even fewer that can provide moving images, like we can. Outside the military, that is.
Illuminating doctors and patients
Holoxica, Khan notes, has a proven track record in making digital holograms for medical schools, teaching hospitals and research centres. These displays, which are static, are used in public presentations, teaching, and the training of students and surgeons. Holoxica has holographically imaged the entire human anatomy, including all organs notably the brain, lungs, liver and heart.
The companys abilities have also found applications in many other sectors, and they have won this highly innovative SME a number of prestigious awards. Much attention has focused on the companys planar interactive displays, which enable viewers to draw in mid-air.
With its current research, Holoxica is heading deeper into unknown territory. The work on the demonstrator is backed by the EUs SME Instrument, which invites small or medium-sized businesses to apply for substantial grants for the development of potentially disruptive technology.
The project is referred to as HoloMedical3D. Once it is completed, more capital will be needed to develop this innovation into a product that potential customers can actually buy, and that doctors in fields as varied as neurology, cardiology and orthopaedics can actually use to help their patients.
Khan is reaching out to potential investors, confident that they will see the potential of this compelling research. We know how to make holograms. We know how to turn scans into holograms, he concludes. And we hope that people will trust our ability to go beyond static displays, and support customers with moving ones in the near future.