Gesture-based holographic user interfaces have long been the preserve of science fiction films like Minority Report, but now that fantasy is one step closer to becoming a reality.
Meta, a startup founded by Columbia University neuroscience researchers, has developed an augmented reality (AR) desk that overlays holographic images onto your workspace, replacing the need for a desktop or laptop computer.
Users simply put on an AR headset with see-through visors and view projected images on top of their working environment – which could be anywhere, from an office to a park or the beach. Basically, it's like being inside your computer. A sensor in the device then scans your hand and changes the image to correspond with your touch, so you can reach out and manipulate the image projected in front of you.
The future is here
Employees at Meta are already trialling the technology. Some practical uses could include collaborating on 3D models, such as architectural prototypes or design blueprints, allowing everyone to visualise, reach out and explore various components of the model. More straightforward uses include moving figures around on a spreadsheet, or switching slides in a PowerPoint presentation.
Those applications can then be moved to one side once they are done – much like having a physical desk but without the constraint of being locked to one place.
The prospect of working on multiple screens and focusing on one task at a time could also act as a productivity boost, as staff are able to physically compartmentalise what they are working on. For anyone annoyed by the constant interruption of messages, or distraction of social media, that is something that would be particularly welcome.
Meta's vision is to create a more collaborative environment, freeing employees from being hunched behind the physical barrier of their computers and desk cubicles.
At a TED Talk, Meta CEO Meron Gribetz said he wants holograms to eventually replace computers and believes current technology is separating people.
"Whether you are sending an email to your wife, or you are composing a symphony ... you are pretty much doing it the same way: fumbling over rectangles with more buttons and rectangles,” he said.
Gribetz believes the future of computers is not locked inside one of these screens. In the next five years, he predicts AR devices will look like strips of glass on our eyes. He explains this will allow your computer to become an extension of your body.
Last year, the company raised $50m (£37.6m) from investors like Lenovo and has big ambitions for future growth. The headset is already available to developers for $949 (£719) and Meta hopes 10,000 people will be using it by the end of the year.
As AR evolves and becomes more accessible, companies are realising the potential it has to change the workplace. IT manager Mark Miller agrees: “Within the next 10 years, I fully expect AR and VR to quickly move from a neat-to-have to a need-to-have for businesses."
So it's possible we might soon be channelling Tom Cruise as Chief of PreCrime John Anderton. Wouldn't that make the task of answering emails a lot more exciting?