At its core, this research confronts the fact that current augmented and virtual reality displays only show 2D images to each of the viewer’s eyes, instead of 3D – or holographic – images like we see in the real world.

“They are not perceptually realistic,” explained Gordon Wetzstein, associate professor of electrical engineering and leader of the Stanford Computational Imaging Lab. Wetzstein and his colleagues are working to come up with solutions to bridge this gap between simulation and reality while creating displays that are more visually appealing and easier on the eyes.

The research published in Science Advances details a technique for reducing a speckling distortion often seen in regular laser-based holographic displays, while the SIGGRAPH Asia paper proposes a technique to more realistically represent the physics that would apply to the 3D scene if it existed in the real world.

Bridging simulation and reality

In the past decades, image quality for existing holographic displays has been limited. As Wetzstein explains it, researchers have been faced with the challenge of getting a holographic display to look as good as an LCD display.

One problem is that it is difficult to control the shape of light waves at the resolution of a hologram. The other major challenge hindering the creation of high-quality holographic displays is overcoming the gap between what is going on in the simulation versus what the same scene would look like in a real environment.

Previously, scientists have attempted to create algorithms to address both of these problems. Wetzstein and his colleagues also developed algorithms but did so using neural networks, a form of artificial intelligence that attempts to mimic the way the human brain learns information. They call this “neural holography.”