Weird Science

Weird Science
How to Build a Holodeck

Tom Rhodes | 18 Mar 2008 14:02
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Now there is tracking, but no free form movement. For that, we turn to Virtual Space Devices, Inc., and their Omni-Direction Treadmill. While not a perfect solution, this is the precursor to complete movement, including uphill. While something like stairs would probably be out of the question, the manufacturer has said that tilt (like for an uphill climb) could be accomplished using "linear actuators attached to the frame." Combining the ODT with the movement tracker, as well as future development on both, and we have "limitless movement in any direction."

What we need now is the ability to walk around somewhere beautiful and photorealistic. While computer modeling has progressed a great deal in the past 20 years, fooling the human eye is still a difficult task, especially when it comes to creating people out of thin air. A much better solution is to not try and outdo the real world, but to use it. Many full-body scanning systems have made photorealistic characters for major entertainment, like the Matrix sequels, Batman Begins, King Kong and, yes, even game properties. By scanning the objects and people from the real world and capturing important parts, like faces, from every direction light can pass, it captures a "perfect-fidelity" image of the object. Consider this image, which was created by scanning actress Jessica Vallot using USC Institute for Creative Technologies' "Light Stage 2" scanner. That's not a photograph, but a digital reproduction of the face, as shown in their demonstration video. With some tweaking, we'll have "photo-realistic scenes and characters" to populate our holodeck world.


Third on our list is probably the easiest, though not without some challenges. If the world looks right, it also has to sound and smell right. Sound is arguably not an issue, since surround sound systems have reached peak efficiency and could be implanted into the environment, as well as placed within the characters you speak to (more on that later). Smell is trickier, since there's nothing right now that automatically creates odors, but there are minds at work on it. The Digital Scent blog catalogs these developments, the most promising of which is an old technology from Essentially, mixing and matching individual fragrances into combinations could create hundreds, possibly thousands, of aromas. Imagine going through the mines with Gordon Freeman, hearing the critters all around you and smelling the rock and coal filling the place.

Of course, this would all be worthless without the ability to interact with this world. Thus we arrive at the crown jewel of the holodeck: Claytronics. The promising technology, while still technically in its infancy, has been under development at Carnegie Mellon University for a while.

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