According to the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, an hologram is the pattern produced on a photosensitive medium that has been exposed by holography and then photographically developed. Or it can be the photosensitive medium so exposed and so developed.
Let's forget this definition and read on.
In the months leading up to the debut of the new Ford Thunderbird last fall, the car's four-person design crew was asked to show its most recent tweaks to company executives. So it did what any auto-design team does: It hauled its latest prototype out to the center of a conference room for a group "walkaround." There, managers cooed over the slick coupe's rakish lines from every imaginable angle.
But "prototype," in this case, might be the biggest understatement in automotive history. What the designers and executives were in fact viewing was a computer-generated hologram -- hovering slightly off the floor -- that not only rendered the T-bird in perfect 3-D but also provided different views as observers moved around it, as if it were really there.
You'll find a 2-D illustration here.
Until now, holograms have been little more than second-rate gimmicks, thanks to the fact that holographically creating anything more than small, washed-out images has proved exceedingly expensive and time-consuming. But that's about to change. Zebra Imaging, a six-year-old startup in Austin that created the Thunderbird holograms (as well as another for the P2000, one of Ford's experimental hydrogen-powered vehicles), is but one of several companies refining new techniques for producing life-size holograms on the fly, using both real and computer-generated images.
Zebra's new technique uses a digital image in place of the physical object. Its computers convert a standard graphics file into a pattern displayed on a large, translucent LCD screen. A laser then fires three different-colored beams through the screen. When the beams converge and hit a special film that can be quickly developed with ultraviolet light and heat, the image emerges in startlingly realistic 3-D detail.
When I worked at SGI, we used Zebra Imaging technology to create an hologram to put on our booth in different trade shows. That was a hit with customers. You can even still see it on their web site at the bottom of this page.
In addition to Ford and SGI, Zebra Imaging attracted customers like Boeing or Exxon. The company also created a life-size hologram of Bob Marley. You can see it at the Bob Marley Museum in Kingston, Jamaica.
Additional comment on August 2, 2002
John Robb mentioned yesterday that he was unable to access the Zebra Imaging web site. This is still the case by now.
So here is the image of the Ford Thunderbird I was referring to.
Source: David H. Freedman, Business 2.0, July 2002 Issue