Inside the Story: Breakthrough in technology could bring Star Wars to life at BYU

Inside the Story: Breakthrough in technology could bring Star Wars to life at BYU (Photo: KUTV)

(KUTV) A major breakthrough in 3D imaging might be the answer to bringing holograms to life.

Engineers at Brigham Young University are working on what they call the "Princess Leia Project."

It's named after one of Hollywood's most iconic scenes in Star Wars where the droid, R2-D2 projects an image of Princess Leia calling for help.

Electrical engineers are still trying to duplicate that movie magic from 1977.

But at BYU, a breakthrough in hologram technology might be the secret to unlocking the code of 3D images that float in the air and that you can see from every angle.

"We are really happy to report that this technology really could do it," said Dr. Daniel Smalley, an electrical and computer engineering professor at BYU.

With a lot of cool lasers, mirrors, and technology they've managed to create what is called a volumetric image.

"We've trapped a little particle in this laser beam, then we can use mirrors to move that laser beam around," Smalley explained as he showed the technology to 2News' Dan Rascon. "So now we are dragging the particle around through space."

Smalley has been fascinated with holograms ever since he was young.

But according to him, there is a problem with the kinds of holograms you can purchase at stores--you can't see the holograms at every angle.

But Smalley, along with electrical engineering students like Erich Nygaard and Wesley Rogers, has created a hologram you can see from all angles.

"We think our approach here has the potential to develop into those displays that we have been dreaming of for 40 years," Rogers said.

Getting to that point didn't happen overnight. The Princess Leia Project has been going on for nearly four years.

And with the technology, the possibilities are endless.

"There is no limit to the things that you can print, so long as those things share space with you," Smalley said.

This kind of work is being done by other researchers outside of BYU, but Dr. Smalley's team is the first to use so-called optical trapping and color effectively.

The study has been published in the Nature International Journal of Science.

You can also read more from this Brigham Young University article.