How do you build a holodeck?

Mar 05, 2013 by Elizabeth Howell, Universe Today

What would it be like to step in an ordinary room and feel a gentle, computer-generated jungle breeze, with trees swaying nearby that you could touch?

AMD, a micro processor manufacturer, is trying to figure that out. The company has been doing a conference circuit in recent weeks promoting its research in heterogeneous , which is essentially a method to bind parallel computing processes together for greater efficiency.

The "holy grail" of these efforts, according to AMD's Phil Rogers, would be building something like the holodeck—the computer deck on  (notably in The Next Generation) where characters would play immersive games. They could dial up a mystery novel, for example, then find themselves in a seedy bar with virtual-yet-real-looking in 1940s-style clothing.

Rogers, a corporate fellow at AMD, has spent years working in 3-D technologies. It's only recently that the company felt comfortable enough to speculate about the holodeck, he says. Other entities are also working on holodeck-like technologies, such as Microsoft and Stony Brook University, so perhaps that helped.

AMD believes it could be only 10 to 15 years before a holodeck becomes real. What would it take to get there?

A better-than-Imax video experience. We hope you've had the experience of sitting back in a domed Imax theatre and watching the in Hubble 3-D. Yet despite the awesome wrap-around view, it doesn't feel like reality. A holodeck would need 360-degree fidelity. It would need to understand that objects get closer when you step towards them, and further when you step away. Perspective must tilt as you move your head.  "You inevitably have to combine multiple video feeds to do that and stitch them together seamlessly," Rogers said.

The highest-fidelity audio ever. You know those people who swear that records produce better music than MP3s? "People are very much more fussy about video than audio," Rogers points out. To make the holodeck feel real, the audio not only has to be immersive, but also directional and able to change as the person moves. The latest in surround-sound technologies doesn't even close to that, he said.

The sensation of touch. Sure, Captain Jean-Luc Picard can slug a virtual villain in the head, but it wouldn't have that same oomph unless Picard could feel his hand making contact with the other guy. "We still need to develop the tactile feedback, as somebody in a holodeck interacts with an object and another person they need to touch, and they need to feel that they touched," Rogers said. "The most likely way that we'd do that is with targeted air jets, and transducers that haven't been developed yet."

Efficient memory allocation. While the blue screen of death in three dimensions would be rather epic, that's not what holodeck designers want. The best way to keep the holodeck humming will be sharing memory between the central processing unit and the graphics processing unit, Rogers said. We've already made strides in this direction. Still, millions of parallel processes will have to happen simultaneously, so there's quite a ways to go.

Lots of processing power. It will take mega computer juice to sync up the images, audio and other features that make the holodeck real. Remember that line in the movie Apollo 13 when Tom Hanks refers to the impressive computer "in a single room"? It's laughable now when glancing at an iPhone, but we face a similar challenge now with holodecks. "The problem is it would take racks and racks of mainframe-like computers," points out Rogers. A holodeck can't be commercially available until the components fit to a small rack and draw small amounts of power.

Find paying customers. Naturally, a holodeck won't happen without a captive market. We've had at least one petition asking the White House to build the Enterprise, but looks like that won't happen anytime soon. Luckily for humanity, AMD has a backup. The firm believes business conference calls could really use a boost from holodeck-like technologies. Instead of having a talking head and a standard PowerPoint presentation, imagine how much more interesting the report would look if said person could, say, grab a virtual model of the solar system and spin it before your eyes.

Target the open-source community. For those people who want to channel their inner Wesley Crusher, AMD plans to leave at least some of the architecture open to amateur programmers. It's hard to predict what computer languages will take hold at that time, but it would be the equivalent of letting somebody with C++ or Java experience into the hardware. Perhaps it will let you set your phasers to … whatever you choose.

Explore further: What if our children are the screen-obsessed couch potatoes of the future?

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User comments : 7

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1 / 5 (1) Mar 05, 2013
well, start with one of these...

Then mount it in one of these...

Voila! Holodeck
not rated yet Mar 05, 2013
ahhh... the direction a person truns does not effect the where the source of the sound appears to be coming from.

if a sound is coming from the left -- and you turn left the sound is coming from in front of you --- so directional sound is not an issue you.

If however you turned to the left and the sound was still coming from your left, then either it moved or you did relative to each other.
5 / 5 (1) Mar 05, 2013
The user may still have to wear tactile gloves or suit for touch. Environment could be simulated with air, mist, water... 3D could be glasses or 3D projection.

Or we just drop all of this hardware and go for the direct mind-jack.
1 / 5 (4) Mar 05, 2013
In order to have any chance of acquiring funding, they'd need to have contracts to install the first several prototypes at theme parks, like Disney or such, so that lots of customers would have access to one system over it's lifetime. At least then the early versions would have some chance of paying for themselves and earning the investors a net income.

I don't think the physics and technology exists yet to make some of the effects. The Star Trek holodeck can totally deceive 4 or 5 users simultaneously, so you would actually need quantum projectors, so that only one user can see each version of the images, because each viewer is in a different position and moving differently from each other user. Perhaps only one viewer at a time could be done without such advanced computers and projections...
1 / 5 (3) Mar 05, 2013
Oculus rift, FTW!


Please look up the Oculus Rift. It is the first modern and functional, reachable form of VR that has been made available.

It's a new world out there. Literally.
3 / 5 (2) Mar 05, 2013
It's funny how some of Roddenberry's plot devices are coming into being centuries before his fictional universe, and yet other problems as the flu, cancer, space warping and teleportation may not be solved for millenia, if ever
1 / 5 (3) Mar 06, 2013
Touch is a major challenge, not just because of sensation but because real environments have things you can step on, lean on, bump into and so forth. Moving floor segments which raise and lower might help and there are some early prototypes out there but creating a ladder or bridge that one person can be on while someone else is under it would be tricky unless it was always just one room to a person with any interaction between real people taking place over data transfer (Hey Data, go to Holodeck B and slug Worf for me).

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