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Retail to entertainment: Holograms will shape future of daily life

Interview by Digital Signage Today:

In part two of our interview, David Nussbaum discusses the future of holograms, which are already being deployed in medical and journalism contexts. From retail to Hollywood and erasing the need for almost all business travel, holograms are poised to change almost every aspect of daily life, a process that has already begun.

So, how do holograms work? Technically, we don’t yet have what a scientist would call a “true hologram,” Nussbaum explained, which involves a very specific set of rules about photon convergence in an open space.

“What we have is a ‘hologram-like effect,'” he said. “We call it ‘Real Presence.’ We use the word ‘hologram’ just because that’s how they’ve been referred to over the years. Whenever I do a panel, there’s always a guy like eight rows back that goes ‘You know, you’re not really a hologram!’ Yeah, thanks a lot, Mr. Wizard, I think we understand!” Nussbaum laughed. “We have patented technology on the hardware side and the software side that allows us to create an effect that is extremely volumetric… We also have the ability to create shadows…the idea of having a shadow in a hologram is crazy, but we’re doing it.”

Originally consigned to dark spaces, holograms now work in variable light conditions. For instance, Diddy (who invests in the company) was recently beamed to three nightclubs simultaneously. A Los Angeles guest asked the nightclub to restart what they thought was a video and was stunned when Diddy replied, “There’s no starting over, this is live!”

What about latency?

When the team started sending these massive 4K files, lag was at about two seconds. Now, it’s generally in the 300-400 millisecond range (and improving) thanks to advances like lossless file compression.

This is essential for live performers like investor Howie Mandel, who has now performed at multiple comedy festivals via hologram. He also beams guests into his podcast; one episode featured Mike Judge, the creator of ‘Silicon Valley,’ a scene of which partly inspired Nussbaum’s inventions. Nussbaum joined that episode via hologram to thank Judge in person. “Your joke is my life,” Nussbaum told the tv legend.

Still, this isn’t just a celebrity technology, said Nussbaum, whose team has developed a smaller device called Proto-M, which aims to make holograms accessible to more consumers. The first few thousand users should be active by the end of 2023, he says.

Might electronics giants become interested in adding holograms to mainstream devices such as smartphones?

“Absolutely, we’re talking, we are arranging strategic partners already,” Nussbaum said.

Holograms will also become a normal fixture at storefronts, according to Nussbaum. The goal is for passerby to be able to see an object they like and immediately make a purchase, he explained, along with virtual try-ons. The devices also feature robust analytics; their cameras can tell all sorts of demographic info on whomever is looking at the sign, targeting content to each viewer.

Beyond retail, journalists use holograms to beam themselves around the world. Nussbaum has made hologram appearances in numerous news rooms for live broadcasts like the Today Show. Safe, mask-free media appearances are highly valued by journalists and celebrities alike in the wake of pandemic lockdowns, Nussbaum said, and families are also using holograms to visit loved ones in military service or hospitals and to remotely attend major events like weddings.

What about the silver screen?

2D movies will always be with us, said Nussbaum, just like any classic art medium, with holograms merely adding more options for creators and audiences. Currently, the most popular use involves actors beaming into theater venues before their movies start playing to have a conversation with the audience, with no travel required.

In fact, Nussbaum said he does very nearly all of his own business travel via hologram. Balancing a grueling work schedule with friends and family is simplified by removing time spent in traditional transit systems. It’s even possible to be in multiple face-to-face meetings or presentations simultaneously, and all from home. “You can always make more money and friends, but you can’t make more time,” Nussbaum said, citing the environmental and time benefits of replacing travel with hologram use, which sees growing interest from speakers and presenters. For instance, Chris Gardner of “Pursuit of Happiness” fame beamed into an appearance remotely and by the end of his hour speech, Nussbaum said, everyone in the venue was visibly moved with some in tears.

But why are holograms so emotionally powerful?

Nussbaum’s team worked with independent researchers to find out. “There is a chemical reaction that happens in the person’s body when they are sharing the same space at the same time with a person,” Nussbaum explained. “A real face-to-face in person connection can only create this chemical reaction — up until Proto.”

Holograms aren’t just for live broadcasts, though; the system can create holographic recordings for posterity. “My parents are on it,” Nussbaum said, “I’m on it. I had my parents come in, they did a dance, they talked about their lives, sort of like ‘When Harry Met Sally’, you know? But in hologram form…I would give anything to know who my great grandchildren are — my great grandparents and great grandchildren. They are going to be able to talk to me, engage with me,” Nussbaum said. “I don’t think that there are any issues with that at all because it’s me, it’s really me saying these things.”

Some Hollywood figures have even embraced the technology, with actors signing deals for rights to their CGI likeness (even with posthumous use). Still, Nussbaum emphasizes he would never do anything without the approval of an individual or their estate. For example, the team worked with the Ronald Reagan Estate and various companies to create a hologram of Ronald Reagan, which is now welcoming visitors to the Simi Valley Library. Indeed, safety and security are the top concern of the company, Nussbaum said. The team employs dozens of engineers, including PhD scientists, who implement several levels of encryption and security protocols.

Will holograms impact videogames?

“Absolutely,” Nussbaum said, “We have started already. Nolan Bushnell, inventor of Atari, was here recently. We’re looking at 2D content in a 3D world that creates a volumetric, extremely realistic effect. Nolan said this is the most realistic 3D content made out of 2D content” that he’s yet seen.

So, what’s the main takeaway for consumers and businesses?

“Peoples of Earth,” he laughed. “It’s happening. If not us, then who? Why wait when we can do it right now?”

Nussbaum also advocates learning by experience. “Don’t be afraid to screw up (or) try new things out. I can’t tell you how many terrible versions of prototypes came out,” he said. He moves the camera to show a pile of them in the corner. “It’s (there) to remind all of us you have to start somewhere and you have to work things out, but you have to partner with people who truly believe in you and your mission.”

What about the general future of tech and the planet?

“I’m looking forward to having a sustainable future,” he said. “I want to leave the earth in a place that’s either the same or better than how I entered it.” And the work is central. “Having the ability to move things around virtually while still making it look real without the need for headsets or wearables or anything to download, to me, is exciting. We were promised this in ‘Back to the Future’, we were promised this in ‘Star Wars.’ So, they promised it, and Proto delivered.”