As the parent of any school-aged child knows, there’s a lot of peer pressure when it comes to staging a truly unique birthday party year after year. Even the shyest kids attend a dozen chocolate cake-fuelled extravaganzas annually, and after the older kids have picked off the pirate theme, the Star Wars theme, the princess theme, and the trip to the local ice creamery, the options dwindle rapidly.
So what about setting loose a herd of wild buffalo during your little one’s big day? Or inviting a lion to prowl for scraps at your cake cutting? And, once the kids start chasing a feisty pack of monkeys through your house, the old game of pin the tail on the donkey is going to look pretty tame.
As the enabling technologies behind holographic presentation and telepresence broadcasting advance, so too do our chances of safely sharing our homes with the wildest of wild animals.
Goodnight Lion, Goodnight Cheetah
The Smithsonian’s National Zoo, Washington, DC, offers live web cams of its elephant, giant panda, and lion cub exhibits viewable using all the major web browsers. In fact, if you download the zoo’s first app you get access to fixed cameras in six different enclosures, featuring stars such as the gorillas, tigers, and flamingos.
However, these 24-hour peep holes do come with a deflating caveat:
Note: The Elephant cam is stationary, and the elephants can choose to move to areas that are off camera.
Ugh, the existential tyranny of free will. There’s also the added drawback that the images of such magnificent animals are only as big as your phone or tablet.
Embrace holographic technology, however, and zoos around the world open up a whole new revenue stream, while children everywhere get to sleep with a 3D lion curled up on their bedroom floor.
The Rise of Holographic Technology
The essential trick behind the famed holographic performances featuring Madonna, and the late Tupac Shakur and Michael Jackson over the past decade is more than 100 hundred years old. Known as Pepper’s Ghost, it’s performed by melting together images from an unseen room or stage with mirrors or screens placed at the center of an audience’s attention.
In addition to returning pop stars to their rightful place in front of adoring crowds, this technology also allowed Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to appear simultaneously at 88 different venues in April, 2014. It’s also the source of those ghostly apparitions inhabiting Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion.
Business giant Accenture already has seven studios around the world capable of creating such holograms, and has used them to project multiple 3D presenters onto the same stage, though they were physically thousands of miles away from both each other and their audience.
Of course, human creativity could never be limited to a century-old parlour trick, no matter how impressive. Experts such as USC’s Professor Paul Debevec are working to create genuine 3D images, capable of displaying an object in all its rounded glory. While the technology relies on some powerful computer crunching, the key hardware is nothing more than high-end variations on common audio and video recording equipment, along with some serious lighting.
At Home on the Savanna
So with holograms easier and easier to create, what’s to stop the Smithsonian from creating a holographic studio of their own in the near future?
Even a single studio could be used to capture live-action, 3D projections of the zoo’s wildest creatures and to beam them into any space on earth. The zoo, and their colleagues around the globe, might sell packaged kits online that would allow parents to bring roaming lions, tigers, and bears right into their children’s bedrooms. At 11am a tiger is moved into the curated jungle studio. At 1pm it makes way for a group of monkeys.
And we need not be bound by metropolitan locations.
Explore.org has web cams set up in exotic locations around the globe, each teaming with actually wild wildlife. Build out a few hotspots with holographic cameras and a parade of carnivores could swagger across some very domesticated living rooms.
Even if we’re bound by the need for a 2D surface to bring these 3D projections to life, an elongated, mounted clean screen placed a foot in front of your wall would create a 24-hour view of the African savanna and all its drama.
Conversely, the thrill seekers among us could do the whole operation in reverse. Simply place yourself in the holographic studio space and project your 3D image onto the savanna to find out once and for all if you really can outrun a cheetah. That’s certainly one game of tag bound for the birthday party hall of fame.
So the next time your child becomes obsessed with giraffes or writes a school report on zebras, tell them it won’t be long until life-size animals can stop by the house any time of day or night. Better get planning that birthday party.