3D Primer

A Google™ search on the term “3D Display” resulted over 130 million links. This immense world of 3D Display technology can be sliced and diced in many ways. Here are two of the most relevant ways to categorize the type of 3D displays: Volumetric or 2-D Panel Based and Stereoscopic or Auto-Stereoscopic (see inset for more detail).

The Importance of 3D

Scientists estimate that almost 50% of the sensory (afferent) neurons are related to the visual and perception sense. Seeing in 3D involves and stimulates many times more of these neurons than seeing in 2D. 

This sets in motion a chain of exponentially increasing number of neurons that are in turn effected, controlling cognition, perception, reaction - all the other functions of the brain and nervous system. 

The net result is that many, many times more brain power is activated for the task at hand. Whether it be controlling air-traffic, analyzing geo-spatial data or conceptualizing the molecular structure of the next wonder drug.

Imagine if you were to drive a car without being able to see the road, or the traffic next to you or without a visual sense of speed. What if you only had a map with dots marking the position of your car, the traffic and a whole lot of dials and panels for speed, direction and traffic? How effective would that be? 

Now translate the above scenario to the thousands of air-traffic controllers who direct thousands of planes with just that kind of situational awareness.

The list is endless:

  • 3D imaging was 3 times more effective in detecting polyps
  • 3D imaging increases the accuracy of tumor treatment several times
  • The use of 3D is critical for the study of DNA structures
  • 3D analysis is indispensable for oil and natural gas exploration

Now imagine, if the images that were captured in 3D could actually be seen in actual 3D, instead of being simulated as 2D in 3D.

Volumetric 3D Imaging Systems have been the staple of science fiction since they were first postulated in 1912. Although many attempts have been made, none have been good enough for commercialization. Only recently has the underlying imaging technology come of age and serious attempts at developing commercial volumetric display technology has found traction.

What is different about Volumetric Displays?

A volumetric display device is a graphical display device that forms a visual representation of an object in three physical dimensions, as opposed to the planar image of traditional screens that simulate depth through a number of different visual effects. One definition offered by pioneers in the field is that volumetric displays create 3-D imagery via the emission, scattering, or relaying of illumination from well-defined regions in (x,y,z) space. (Source: Wikipedia)

The main difference from an application and usage point is that volumetric displays are not 3D on a 2D screen or a flat panel.

Advantages of Volumetric Displays

  • Render actual voxels which 2D screens by definition cannot
  • Capable of displaying actual spatial relationships between objects and elements – thus are much more appropriate for 3D visualization, especially those applications that involve parameters of space and distance
  • Naturally auto-stereoscopic since they do not depend upon artificial parallax creation
  • Provide viewing of the object or scene from multiple points-of-view
  • Do not require artificial depth cues like lighting, shading and perspective