03
Sep
09

The Soldier of the Future: A Hologram

For most people. the first they ever heard of Holograms was on Star Trek and the Holodecks, where the crew of the space-bound ship went to visit the world they came from. In the holodecks, not only were images three-dimensional, they were tangible also.

And who can forget Star War’s Princess Leia and her plea to Obi Wan Kenobi, or Yoda’s appearance as a hologram?

In reality, as close as we’ve gotten is Google’s Streetview. It looks real. It’s based on real pictures and videos, but you can’t interact with it:

Let’s back up. A ‘hologram’ is the result of ‘holography’, a technique that allows the light scattered from an object to be recorded and reconstructed so that it appears to change as the position and orientation of the viewing system changes in exactly the same way as if the object were still present. If you look at well-made holograms from different angles, you see objects from different perspectives just as you would a real object, even appearing to move as you walk past them. This is much more complicated than 3D scanning, where a device collects data on the shape and appearance (such as color) of a real-world object to construct a digital, three dimensional model (much like a 2D dimensional scanner does–the one in everyone’s home office).

Its potential is amazing, but so far we have only mundane products such as holographic credit cards, data storage, and holographic scanners used in post offices to determine the three-dimensional size of a package.

Here’s one that grabbed my attention. The military spends heavily on research–resulting in such discoveries as chlorine and radar–every year in an ongoing race to keep us more than a step ahead of our enemies. Here, they’re researching the use of holograms to create soldiers:

Army Working on Science’s Outer Limits

It’s like something out of “The Terminator.” Self-aware virtual humans, regenerating body parts on “nano-scaffolding,” mind controlled weapons – all the stuff of movie robots, comic heroes and otherworldly tomes.

But for some, this kind of higher-than-high tech is as real as life and death.

Dr. John Parmentola, Director of Research and Laboratory Management with the Army’s science and technology office, told military bloggers that the Army is “making science fiction into reality” by creating realistic holographic images, generating virtual humans and diving into quantum computing.

It may sound like a trailer for the next “Star Trek” installment, but Parmentola is deadly serious.

For the last several years, the Army has kept a close eye on research into areas of science that might have once been called “paranormal;” its practitioners drummed out of the academy as kooks and nut-jobs. But now the idea of implanting specific memories or erasing damaging ones, for example, isn’t mere fantasy.

Dr. Joe Tsien, a neurobiologist at the Medical College of Georgia and co-director of the Brain Discovery Institute, has been able to erase certain memories from mice subjected to traumatic experiences in a laboratory environment, Parmentola said. From a practical standpoint, the Army could use this kind of technology to help Soldiers who’ve been psychologically scarred by staring death straight in the eye.

“You can imagine people who have horrifying memories, it would be great if we could eliminate them so this way they’re not plagued by these memories uncontrollably,” Parmentola said. “We have Soldiers that have this problem, like PTSD and traumatic brain injury, but there are many other examples that occur in the civilian world.”

The Army plans to highlight Tsien’s and other research into the ragged edges of science fiction at the 26th Army Science Conference in Orlando next month, where experts in neurorobotics, high-tech computer displays and quantum physics will explain how Soldiers could benefit from the types of radical science most have only seen on episodes of the “X-Files.”

“Quantum ghost imaging,” for example, is as complicated as it sounds. Basically it’s a phenomenon of physics that allows images to be rendered through the pairing of photons that do not reflect or bounce off an object, but off of other photons that did, thereby creating a sort of “ghost” image of it. This technology would enable the Army to generate images of personnel and equipment through clouds and smoke.

“It’s like having a tracing tool … that goes over the image and that’s connected to another one on a piece of paper that exactly imitates what it is that you are tracing with the other pen,” Parmentola said. “It takes advantage of a remarkable property of quantum mechanics to try and do this.”

And if you do end up at the Army Science Conference next month, don’t be startled by the three-dimensional holographic image of a soldier talking to you (not that the regenerated arm, mind-controlled computer or implanted memories won’t freak you out enough) as you walk down the hall. It might just be the virtual human Army researchers are creating to make simulators and war games more realistic for training, Parmentola said.

They’re working on creating “photorealistic looking and acting human beings” that can think on their own, have emotions and talk in local slang.

“I actually interact with virtual humans in terms of asking them questions and they’re responding,” Parmentola said. (more on holographic soldiers)

To test out the computer generated humans’ “humanity,” Parmentola and his researchers want to unleash some of their cyber Soldiers into so-called “massively multi-player online games” such as “World of Warcraft” or “Eve Online” – games frequented by thousands of super-competitive human players in teams of virtual characters fighting battles that can last for days.

“We want to use the massively multi-player online game as an experimental laboratory to see if they’re good enough to convince humans that they’re actually human,” he said.


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