IARPA’s Synthetic Holographic Observation program: developing advanced dynamic holographic displays
By Madison Ruppert
Editor of End the Lie
The Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Agency (IARPA) – the intelligence community’s equivalent of DARPA, about which we write about regularly here at End the Lie – is not only working on silent drones. They are now pursuing a program called Synthetic Holographic Observation or SHO.
In the description of their program provided with the Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) posted last year on the Federal Business Opportunities website, they reveal just how ambitious this program is.
While the solicitation was first posted in July of 2011, IARPA actually just gave out a whopping $58,328,021 contract to Ostendo Technologies of Carlsbad, California to build the prototype SHO system on August 15, 2012.
“Today’s 3D cameras and displays offer solutions to entertainment markets. These displays provide a single perspective of a scene (e.g., videogames, movie theaters), or else dynamic multi-perspectives to a single viewer with and without special glasses, using head-tracking,” explains the solicitation.
Obviously, such restrictions are by no means acceptable when it comes to use by the military and intelligence community which receives more funding than any other in the world.
“Due to shortcomings in 3D effects from these technologies, prolonged viewing commonly leads to strain and discomfort,” the solicitation notes.
Therefore, they’re seeking to create technology which goes far beyond anything previously developed or perhaps even conceived.
“SHO seeks dynamic, high-performance, synthetic holographic 3D workstation display systems, simultaneously viewable by multiple people with the unaided eye,” states the solicitation.
These are likely to be used “for sustained and interactive exploration of massive and dynamic, fused 3D data from, for example, Light Detection And Ranging (LIDAR) and overhead imagery.”
“Solutions are needed that are compatible with a fast-paced, collaborative operational environment,” the solicitation states. “Operational settings for visualization analysts constrain cost, size, weight and power, and impose demanding human factors requirements. The SHO Program addresses both the constraints and the requirements to enable safe, natural and effective 3D visualization for the operational environment.”
“Low-profile display prototypes are sought providing brilliant, power-efficient, high-resolution and full-color light-fields of 3D data possessing visually continuous perspectives with no detectable artifacts,” concludes the solicitation.
In other words, they want holograms that are free of any signs of actually being a hologram, thus the “visually continuous perspectives with no detectable artifacts.”
Hilariously, as Wired’s Danger Room reported, one company itching to get their hands of some of the $58 million contract actually employed the example of the hologram in the famous science fiction film “Star Wars” in one of their presentations.
Not all too surprisingly, the ones who used Star Wars in their presentation didn’t get the award.
Ostendo’s task is far from a small one seeing as they have to create a display that not only allows the analysts to view traditional overhead imagery and LIDAR data in full 3D but also allows them to actively work together and comb through the 3D scenery in an interactive way.
Obviously this is in no way possible with any traditional map and such an ability would give the American intelligence community quite an edge in analyzing huge amounts of data.
Characterizing the amount of data the SHO system has to process as “huge” is actually a tragic understatement.
According to IARPA, the SHO system must be able to render “several terabytes” of information at one time. In other words, the display must be able to render more data than many personal computers will hold.
The agency wants to eventually advance the SHO system enough to also include imagery from synthetic aperture radar and hyper-spectral imagery.
Ostendo also has a pretty strict schedule to meet seeing as they will have to be able to produce a display within 18 months capable of displaying an image at least 16 hogels wide.
For those unfamiliar with the technology, the word “hogel” is derived from “holographic” and “element” and is the smallest part of a computer generated hologram. It is essentially the equivalent of a 2D pixel, although unlike a pixel it contains 3D information from various perspectives.
Then by month 45 of the SHO project, Ostendo will have to produce a display capable of a whopping 1024 hogels.
To raise the bar even higher, every single one of these 1024 hogels must be able to be viewed clearly from over 65,000 different viewing angles.
Much about the SHO program, along with the rest of the research into holograms conducted by the military and intelligence communities, remains shrouded in mystery. Unfortunately, it will likely remain so for the foreseeable future.
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