MIT’s Mark II Holographic Video Display produces surprisingly pleasing and lifelike 3-D images. In one demo, a red prototype sports car designed by Honda instantly appears to hover brightly in miniature a half-meter or so in front of the observer, all of the car’s graceful lines perfectly discernible from different angles. Perhaps it’s partly because of the novelty of the experience, but the mild flicker and shimmering image bars hardly distract attention from the intense realism of the effect.

Benton’s group is continually making refinements in three core areas: hardware and software for the display, realism and image quality, and interactivity. Wendy Plesniak, a Media Lab researcher and consultant who as a student helped develop computing algorithms for the holographic video device, added a feature that could ultimately lead to an industrial designer’s dream machine: a haptic, or force feedback, interface that makes it possible to “sculpt” the projected image with a real-life, handheld tool. As the user pokes, prods, and carves with a stylus, the holographic image changes as if it were clay on a potter’s wheel, and the user senses resistance as if she were really working the clay.