Much harder will be making them fast enough for movies or 3-D TV.
"Right now it takes us about two to three minutes" to erase and write a new image," Peyghambarian says. So "it wouldn't be usable for applications like 3-D video and 3-D cinema. Those you need much mucher faster rates of refreshing, so at this time we only focus on applications that would not require more than a few minutes of updating. So, 3-D video, 3-D movies-- they would be the next generation.
He says the first application may be in medical imaging, upgrading the current 2-D outputs with a third dimension. "We can actually update that information every few minutes. So, and using the same information that they already have through the MRI or CAT scan."
Another application he sees is military. "Commanders could sit around a table and manage the battle stage by looking at a three-dimensional view of the battle stage and update it very regularly."
And, of course, there's advertising. "These displays are pretty much attention grabbers-- people go toward them," he says. Stores or trade show exhibits "could change the product every few minutes… they could have an array of products that could be on display," Peyghambarian says.
Barefoot agrees that there's nothing like holograms for catching people's eyes. "The thing about holography is that it records things the way they really are. It's sort of like what photography should have been doing all along. It records the depth, and the dimension of an object or a scene so that you really think that you're looking at it."
As for those projected 3-D videos that people often think of as holograms, Barefoot explains that's a common mistake. "Anything that's 3D people have started calling it holography," he says. "There are many two-dimensional effects http://www.musion.co.uk/Al_Gore_Live_Earth_Tokyo.html -- projecting video onto glass or to film so that it gives the illusion of a three-dimensional image in space, when in fact it is not. Holography is the only one that can do that. "
Barefoot now thinks holography may finally live up to its potential. "People think that if it's in the movies, it's in real life, and that's not the case. Of course, that's where we'd like holography to be at one point, and this new dynamic hologram technology might lead us there.
"I never really thought holography could lead us into three-dimensional TV… because it is film based," says Barefoot. "This sort of starts the game all over again. It's pretty exciting."
Indeed, Peyghambarian says there are likely many applications the researchers haven't even begun to imagine. "It's an enabling technology, and those enabling technologies may have many applications," he says. "I think it has the potential of a very, very large market."
This research was published in Nature, February 7, 2008, and funded by the US Air Force Office of Scientific Research and the Arizona TRIF Photonics programme.