The Star Trek franchise has given us a vision of the future that looks pretty bright, for the most part. Aside from tangling with the occasional Borg cube, genetically-engineered Mexican Sikh, or omniscient smart-ass, things are almost utopian. And there are so many cool gadgets to play with: food replicators, transporters, phasers that can be adjusted to do almost anything.
One of the most wished-for pieces of tech from the Star Trek television shows and movies is the holodeck. The idea of the holodeck seemed to evolve over the life of The Next Generation, Voyager, Deep Space Nine, and various feature films.
The holodeck was basically a room equipped with “holo-emitters” that projected holograms throughout the room. Some of the holodeck’s features are based on the same basic technological principles as the transporter system, some on replicated matter, tractor beams, and holograms. The holodeck would produce or mimic solid material such as metal, fabric, food, and flesh.
A person could write their own scenario that they wanted to experience, based on parameters already stored within the computer system. You could take a vacation on a beach, including the ocean, sun, sand, and wind. You could train in an athletic or combat scenario. You could generate a partner and have sex.
One of the key features of a holodeck was that it could simulate huge distances, allowing you to hike for miles, for example. This was possible even though the holodeck room itself was of limited size, aboard a starship or space station, for example. This was an illusion created by the programming to lead a person around the room, but making them think they were always moving forward.
Having a real holodeck is the stuff of trekkie fantasy. Maybe, in some fashion, that fantasy is not too far being fulfilled.
In Sunnyvale, California — not to be confused with Sunnydale, where the Hellmouth is — Advanced Micro Devices is working on a holodeck. The room is shaped like a dome and covered with wall-to-wall projectors. It uses surround sound and other technologies to mimic real-world conditions.
This kind of mimicry may seem far from holodeck levels, but as Michio Kaku says, “Eventually, wallpaper will become intelligent and we will paper over our entire living room with intelligent paper, surrounding and immersing ourselves with 3-D images. Much of this technology already exists, but in crude form.”
As for that “infinite space in a finite room” problem, the United States Army Research Laboratory has the answer to that. They have created a floor called an “omnidirectional treadmill” that allows one to keep on moving, without covering much ground.
But this is not the only venture to take a stab at building a holodeck. Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics in Germany have their own version. This version uses an Oculus Rift virtual reality headset, paired with a pre-set room, to allow someone to move about in a virtual environment. The subject wears “markers”, much like those used in motion-capture filmmaking, to help interface with the system and “track” the user.
With advances such as these, especially if driven by the gaming industry, perhaps we aren’t too far off from some semblance of a holodeck experience.
Image via YouTube