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A new frontier in virtual reality? Microsoft patents hints at Star Trek-like holodeck

Science fiction quite often predicts future technology. The very first science fiction movie, 1902’s A Trip to the Moon, predicted the moon landing 67 years later, and it’s also true of Star Trek, the best-known science fiction TV show. Star Trek has augured a host of gadgets that have already seen the light of day, like cell phones and “tricorder”-like devices .

One of Star Trek’s most well-known technologies is the holodeck, an enclosed room on starships where the computer projects entire worlds in seamless virtual reality that are fully interactive. While VR and augmented reality (AR) systems are in the works on a limited scale, Microsoft has applied for a patent to bring the Star Trek holodeck that much closer to reality, as MSPU reports.

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The crux of the patent, filed on June 17, 2015, and published on December 22, 2016, focuses on overcoming one of the limitations of Microsoft’s own HoloLens technology, namely its limited field of view (FOV). The patent technology would not overcome that limitation directly. Rather, it would project images onto surrounding objects in a room to extend the FOV of a head-mounted display (HMD) like HoloLens.

The holodeck-like room would be festooned with projectors, some of them with 3D technology, that would continuously work with the display to create a much larger FOV. As the patent states, “Different instances of the complementary computer-generated content can enhance each other. The complementary computer-generated content can extend a FOV, change the appearance of the real world scene (e.g., a room), mask objects in the real world scene, induce apparent motion, and/or display both public and private content, among other capabilities.”

Microsoft Research has been working on this technology in the real world, and the team created a video demonstrating how the patent technology might work. The entire solution would include eye-tracking sensors, along with the projectors, to make for a much more realistic virtual world.

As with all patents, there’s no guarantee that this one will ever see the light of day. It’s far more likely that certain aspects of the technology will be incorporated in real-world products. However, as VR and AR technology continues to progress, it’s likely that one day in the future we’ll be fighting Klingons in our own holodecks, and we’ll once again perhaps have Star Trek to thank for the inspiration.