Executives may not be able to beam a full three-dimensional image of themselves across the world just yet but researchers are a step closer to 3-D real-time images, an advance in holographic technology that could make video conferencing far more lifelike.

Nasser Peyghambarian of the University of Arizona and colleagues said on Wednesday their new holographic technology can project a near 360-degree image to another location that updates every two seconds.

Known as three-dimensional telepresence, the technology addresses shortcomings of current holograms, which give the illusion of 3-D but leave out the rear view, said Peyghambarian, whose study appears in the journal Nature.

"If you look at the 3-D object, we show it is very much like if you look around you. It's the closest to what you see compared to any other technology," Peyghambarian, who also holds a position at the National Science Foundation, said on a telephone briefing.

He said the earliest use of the technology could be in movies, given the popularity of 3-D films such as "Avatar."

"We foresee many applications, including for example, car or airplane manufacturing. They can look at the hologram and design the system they have in real-time and look at the model and make changes on it as they go," Peyghambarian told the briefing.

Surgeons around the world also could participate in complex operations at the same time, he said.

To create the hologram, cameras take color images at multiple angles and send them over an Ethernet line. In the lab model, images are projected onto a transparent plastic panel and refreshed every few seconds.

Future displays will lie flat on a table and the system will create an optical illusion that the image is floating above the screen.

The three-dimensional telepresence technology differs from 3-D technology in several ways.

With 3-D, one perspective is projected to one eye and another perspective is projected to the other, which is why people wear special glasses. With the hologram, no special glasses are needed and the number of perspectives is only limited by the number of cameras used.

In a videoconference, this means people sitting on one side of a table see the front of a person, people on the side would get a side view and people in the back would see their back.

The technology builds on earlier work by the same group, which in 2008 reported a black and white 3-D image that could be updated every four minutes.

The new system is more than 100 times faster.

"This breakthrough opens new opportunities for optics as a means to transport images in real time," Lynn Preston, director of the National Science Foundation's Engineering Research Centers program, said in a statement.

Peyghambarian said the team still needs to work out some issues, including improving the screen and reducing the system's power demands, which will take about two years.

It will be far longer before the system can be used by ordinary consumers.

"I don't think you can see these in our houses in less than seven to 10 years," he said.

(Editing by Maggie Fox and Bill Trott)

Source: Reuters US Online Report Technology News

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