We’re one step closer to creating an iconic piece of Star Wars tech

A new gadget from Sussex university offers hologram fans a new hope. The Multimodal Acoustic Trap Display (MATD) is capable of creating simple animated images in mid-air, which can be seen, felt and heard by viewers.

In a recent demo, the MATD produced a 3D globe and a colourful, flapping butterfly. Admittedly this is a far cry from seeing a hologram of an earnest Princess Leia begging Obi Wan Kenobi for help, but it’s an exciting leap forward all the same.

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Credit: Sussex University

The device works by using ultrasound speakers to levitate a tiny bead in mid-air. The bead is then whizzed around at high speed (too fast for the human eye to see) and illuminated with colour.

So although we actually see a finished 3D image, in reality the bead or “coloured particle” traces the picture in 0.1 seconds, moving at a speed of around 20mph to create the animation.

If we’re really nit-picking, this mean that the finished image isn’t technically a hologram, as it doesn’t rely on a light source. But the benefit of this device over other hologram simulators – like VR and AR headsets, or 3D TVs – is its ability to offer audio and tactile interactions.

These sensations can be created by careful manipulation of the ultrasound speakers.

The tech behind the device opens up new possibilities as well. The opportunity to manipulate matter without physically grabbing it with your grimy hands could be useful for people conducting chemical experiments or medical procedures.

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While holograms have sort of been around in various guises for a few years, this device was created using “low-cost and commercially available components”, making it slightly more likely that hologram devices could become affordable for the everyday consumer.

Here’s hoping we’ll be able to get our own version to play around with one day.

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