Shape-shifting fog display ushers in a whole new world of holograms

Researchers at the U.K.’s University of Sussex developed a shape-changing fog display that projects 3D-looking images directly onto a thin wall of mist, floating in midair. The work represents the first time anyone has combined shape-shifting displays and fog screens into one creation.

Called Mistform, the display is about 39 inches and is made up of fog stabilized by curtains of air. The 3D- projection part of the project makes use of some smart algorithms that have to account for the way that fog scatters light. They also remove any image distortion which might occur due to projecting an image onto a moving, curved fog surface.

However, the interesting part of Mistform is the way that the screen extends and retracts to interact with its viewers.

For example, it can curve around two viewers as a way of providing the best possible viewing experience for both of them. On the other hand, it can adopt a triangular shape if they want to work independently on different parts of the screen. Even if just one person is watching, the shape-shifting tech can be effective by manipulating itself to facilitate interactions — or simply to make an image appear more three-dimensional by physically moving closer to a viewer.

It is able to manipulate itself in this way thanks to motion trackers which detect the user’s movement and intentions and then instruct the display on how to adapt.

“With other 3D display technologies your eyes need to focus on the display surface, even if you see an object ‘popping out’ of the screen,” Dr. Diego Martinez Plasencia, a lecturer in the Interact Lab at the University of Sussex’s School of Engineering and Informatics, said in a press release. “If you then try to touch it, your eyes will need to focus either on your hand or on the display, which soon can lead to eye fatigue (unless the 3D object and your hand are really close to the display surface). MistForm can adapt to these scenarios, moving the display surface so that both the object and the hand remain comfortably visible. With this kind of technique, we can provide comfortable direct hand 3D interaction in all the range your arms can reach.”

While it is unlikely that we will be ditching the TV in our living room shape-shifting fog display any time soon, it is hard to deny this technology is pretty darn rad. At the very least, we look forward to it making for some great future theme park rides.