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U.S. Spies Summon Star Wars for 3-D Hologram Displays

• Noah Shachtman via

It’s one of the most memorable scenes in science fiction: a 3-D, holographic Princess Leia, begging for Obi-Wan’s help. America’s spy services have just plunked down $58 million to make it real. And if you think the gadget-makers behind this “Synthetic Holographic Observation” effort weren’t inspired by Star Wars, well, take a look at this presentation (.pdf) from one of the companies that bid for the 3-D holographic displays. On page four, there’s Leia, telling Kenobi that he’s her only hope.

The military and intelligence communities have been working with holographic and 3-D displays for years. Air Force analysts, for instance, use stereoscopic glasses to pick out which targets to bomb. But the tools have been of limited utility. Some required specialty eyewear; others only displayed a few colors, or could only been seen from a few angles.

That’s not good enough, says the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity — the spy services’ equivalent of Darpa. All sorts of data now naturally comes in three dimensions, like the information generated by lidar, the laser equivalent of radar. Groups of analysts need to be able to see and interact with that information, all at once and without some clunky headgear. ”These requirements and practical operational environment constraints beg for new display technology transcending all current commercial offerings and their future projected capabilities,” Iarpa notes.

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