BACKGROUND: Zebra Imaging, a small firm in Austin, Texas, has developed a way to turn a computer generated drawing of a car into a hologram in a matter of hours, for a fraction of the price. These three-dimensional images made by computers and lasers instead of rolling off the assembly line, but they provide automakers a realistic alternative to the fragile and bulky clay mock-ups that have been used by car designers for decades. Until now, holograms weren't a practical alternative because they took days to create and sometimes cost more than an actual car.
HOW IT WORKS: Zebra prints its holograms on acrylic-backed tiles that can be viewed either on a wall or a table. The image appears to jump out from the tiles toward the viewer because there are hundreds of thousands of "hogels," the holographic equivalent of pixels. Each hogel contains a slightly different perspective of the image, creating a 3D depiction that changes depending from which angle someone views it.
ADVANTAGES: Some design flaws don't show up on a standard two-dimensional computer screen but are obvious in three dimensions, as with a hologram. The new technology allows designers to incorporate and view several design options in a single holographic image. For instance, designers can see multiple wheel designs side-by-side and decide on the best choice. Designers can also strip away the top surface of a vehicle to look at the structures below the surface to identify potential design flaws. Or they can study the interior from different views in the same holographic image, which would be impossible with a physical model. All this translates into a shorter time from the design phase to the manufacturing line, and in turn, reduced costs and increased profits.
ABOUT HOLOGRAMS: A hologram is a photograph of the interference pattern made by two beams of light that interact with each other. One beam comes directly from the laser, while the other comes from the same laser but bounces off the object being imaged. Light waves behave just like water waves when they meet. Wherever a crest of one coincides with a crest of the other, an extra high crest will form, and where two troughs coincide, they will form an extra low trough. If a crest meets a trough, the two will cancel each other out. With light, the waves will form light (crests) and dark (troughs) fringes -- the telltale wave interference pattern that can be recorded on photographic film. After it is developed, the hologram is lit by a beam of light to recreate the 3D object in space.