back to article AMD: Star Trek holodecks within reach

Twenty-five years ago, Star Trek: The Next Generation introduced the holodeck, a chamber aboard the USS Enterprise NCC-1701-D that could transform itself into any environment. In a decade or two, however, that sci-fi fantasy could be real. So said the general manager of AMD's global business units, Lisa Su, speaking at the …


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  1. FrankAlphaXII

    Off topic but...

    Planet Mopar? Remind me to never go there. Any Chrysler planet would be notoriously unreliable. Sounds like something out of my nightmares. Almost as bad as Planet Chevrolet of the GM system.

    Mine's the one with the Crown Vic in the transporter buffer, erm, "pocket".

    1. Michael Habel

      Re: Off topic but...

      Um sir the RIAA would like to inspect that Car of yours...

      They think it might belong to them...

    2. L05ER

      Re: Off topic but...

      pfff... it will be at least another decade before i let anyone trumpet ford without bringing up the self immolating SUVs.

      cruise control circuitry should never be able to cause a fire when the vehicle isn't even running... that's an epic fail of biblical proportions.

  2. Chad H.


    I always suspected the Enterprise didn't have Intel Inside...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Well

      significant bits "worked" without needing windows

    2. NomNomNom

      Re: Well

      Actually the enterprise computer was powered by a Pentium 2 and they ship was contractually obliged to emit the Intel jingle every-time it came out of warp. Of course this was a marketing error on the part of Intel as in space no-one can hear your jingle.

    3. hplasm

      Re: Well

      It did get 'rebooted' once in TNG.

      That was a very shark-jumpy moment...

  3. John H Woods Silver badge

    we don't need *that* much processing power

    Our impression that we can see everything in front of us all at once is a trick played on us by our brain, as demonstrated by the admirably-titled "Gorillas in our midst". The trick will be to work out what we are really looking at in any given fraction of a second and render thoroughly in that +/-2 degrees or so; less precision from there to +/-10; and beyond that everything else can remain rather fuzzy and we'd never know.

    1. Sir Runcible Spoon

      Re: we don't need *that* much processing power

      ..and if there are two people in the room?

      1. CyrixInstead
        Thumb Up

        Re: we don't need *that* much processing power

        Well Apple have patents for head tracking technology, so why not?

    2. daveeff

      Re: we don't need *that* much processing power

      a) the holodeck lets you move about beyond the limits of the room, lets you pick up & interact with 3D objects, can smack you over the head... One of the reasons NG failed the legacy, it skipped over difficult science without even making an effort (the orig, might not have been science fact but it made an effort).

      b) why have an immersive room or screens that figure out & render where you are looking when you can just wear specs?

      1. Annihilator

        Re: we don't need *that* much processing power

        @daveeff - pretty sure the pilot episode explained most of it. The replicators created the near/solid objects, the further away parts were holographic. The solid parts were rendered-on-demand, if you like. :-)

        Moving beyond the limits of the room? I can run on a treadmill for miles and not leave the gym.

        As for just wearing specs, regardless of how immersive it is, you'd always be aware you were wearing specs!

      2. Tom 13

        Re: the holodeck lets you move about beyond the limits of the room

        As I understand it, when they reverse engineered the concept (which is actually what was done with most Treknology) was that you only felt like you were moving beyond the limits of the room. Given artificial gravity and anti-gravity devices this would be accomplished by seemlessly moving the floor beneath you as you walked along. But yes the replicators and transporters would actually be the key pieces to this technology. So while the 3-D computational part might be within reach, the rest of it isn't. And I'm not sure the computational power is there for multiple fully developed psychologies of the NPCs either.

  4. Steven Roper

    Holodecks aren't just about processing power

    Sure, we might be able to recreate the visuals and audio within a decade or so, but that's a long way from what the ST:NG holodecks were depicted as being capable of. Tactile and olfactory simulation being the biggest challenges here; how to simulate the roughness and solidity of a rock, or the furriness of a cat, or the softness of a comfy armchair? Then there's smell and taste, which are notoriously difficult to replicate, let alone simulate.

    I can see "360-degree viewing rooms" emerging within the next 10 or so years: I imagine a cuboidal room, perhaps the size of a toilet cubicle, whose walls and ceiling consist entirely of hi-res monitors to create the effect of you being inside a "glass box" within a virtual environment. For real authenticity these monitors would need to be capable of parallactic 3D (not the simple stereoscopic pseudo-3D of today's TVs) so if you move your head to see around a nearby tree, for example, what's behind the tree comes into view. And that technology is quite a long way off yet, as it requires in-situ 3D positional mapping of every object in the scene, although the computational power discussed in the article certainly makes running this kind of display feasible.

    1. 142

      Re: Holodecks aren't just about processing power

      Surprisingly, roughness / solidity isn't the most difficult thing to simulate. Bizarrely our ears over-rule our fingertips in this context! Blindfold someone with headphones on, and have them scrape their hands over a piece of glass, and they'll be completely convinced it's wood, metal, sandpaper, or marble they're touching depending on what sound you feed into the headphones.

      I've done experiments that have listeners utterly convinced they've just sat down into a plush fabric sofa, when in fact, they've sat onto something solid. It's amazing what careful sound design can do to fool people! :-)

      Also - in a somewhat similar phenomenon, our sense of touch works determines the texture of material by detecting vibrations, and there's been a lot of progess in this field:

      1. 142

        Re: Holodecks aren't just about processing power

        Actually, just thinking, to be specific here: it wasn't simply the act of sitting on the sofa, it was the feeling that someone had sat down right beside them on the next cushion! they actually felt the sofa move and adjust beneath their backside, as the other person's weight moved the cushion on their left hand side. When in fact they were in the room, on their own. The illusion even worked when their eyes were open!

        1. RISC OS

          Re: Holodecks aren't just about processing power

          No, if intel are making them you'll have to watch a 3d "intel inside" jingle before it starts generating you room... then AV vendors will start paying for intel to but holographic AV crapware in your holodeck... and then everything will turn blue when the american built piece of shit crashes.

      2. Voland's right hand Silver badge

        Re: Holodecks aren't just about processing power

        You missed the most difficult one - smell. We have no idea how to digitize smell data and replay it. We have a reasonably good understanding of the way tactile, visual or hearing receptors work. Olfactory bulb - and here be dragons.

        1. hplasm

          Re: Holodecks aren't just about processing power

          The most difficult one- and the most annoying 'holodeck' feature- how to run, fly or ride an imaginary holohorse for bloody miles without smashing into the wall 10 feet in front of you.

          the all singing holodeck was just a plot device for B&B's 2nd rate writers.

          1. DRendar

            Re: Holodecks aren't just about processing power

            I agree that of course the holodecks are just a plot device, but the whole question about do they move around in the holodecks has been 'explained' many times...

            They don't actually stand on the floor, they're actually suspended a millimeter or two off it on a forcefield, and when they walk they just get the sensation of walking, and the 'forcefields and photons' move around them.

            A great demonstration of this is the episode of Voyager when Torres is trying to kill herself, and she leaves the holodeck part way through a skydive. (I don't remember the episode name... I'm not THAT geeky :-)

            1. RISC OS

              Re: Holodecks aren't just about processing power

              Ok smarty pants... how are they going to achieve that? Or make it possible for two people in the same room to travel at the same time to opposite parts of the world?

              1. Annihilator

                Re: Holodecks aren't just about processing power

                "Ok smarty pants... how are they going to achieve that? Or make it possible for two people in the same room to travel at the same time to opposite parts of the world?"

                You know it's called science fiction, right? But you don't have much of an imagination clearly. You can't "see" the walls of the holodeck, so why couldn't the room block your view of the other person in the room, making it appear they are the other side of the world? Besides, I don't recall them having a holodeck where the people were miles from each other.

                Nothing in the holodeck idea is beyond the laws of physics as we know them today, it's just very very difficult and impractical. In the same way we could teleport things today, we can only do particles, but it's all a matter of scale.

                1. Dave 126 Silver badge

                  Re: Holodecks aren't just about processing power

                  > Or make it possible for two people in the same room to travel at the same time to opposite parts of the world?

                  You just put each person in their own holodeck- each holodeck then presents a simulation of the other users to its own occupant. Easy.

              2. DRendar

                Re: Holodecks aren't just about processing power

                "Ok smarty pants... how are they going to achieve that? Or make it possible for two people in the same room to travel at the same time to opposite parts of the world?"

                Oh, I dunno, maglev shoes? Millions of tiny motorized balls on the ground? Suspension in a full climbing harness?

                As for multiple people you could just have multiple people each in their own deck.

                My post wasn't suggesting that this is possible at all, just advising how they do it using fictitious 24/25th century technology, which the post I replied to was implying had never been explained. :-)

            2. Lloyd Kinsella

              Re: Holodecks aren't just about processing power

              Think it might have been "Extreme Risk" from what I recall. It's been a while, I should rewatch it :)

              On a geeky side note remember the holodeck techology was actually an offshoot of the transporter technology -

              Ahh well geek fest over :)

        2. CyrixInstead

          Re: Holodecks aren't just about processing power

          I remember smellyvision in the 80's...

    2. RISC OS

      Re: Holodecks aren't just about processing power

      Yeah but how do they solve the biggest problem... letting move about in the holodeck like it it is the whole world when it is only the same size as a toilet?

      Are are people just going to simulate toilets with their holodecks?

      1. Don Jefe

        Re: Holodecks aren't just about processing power

        A great big ball. So large that it felt like you were on a flat surface.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Holodecks aren't just about processing power

        .. they are, depending of course on .... how many projected females will be in there with me.

        fork() error on pull.

      3. David_H

        Re: Holodecks aren't just about processing power

        There are various military simulators where the floor is essentially made of roller balls that returns you to the centre of the simulation area as you walk around. Obviously doesn't work for multiple people walking to/from each other though.

    3. Andrew Jones 2

      Re: Holodecks aren't just about processing power

      Surely the most efficient way of creating smell and tactile feedback will be by wirelessly manipulating the relevant areas of the brain. In the same way it's a proven scientific fact that coloured light and specific music can change the mood of a person - so it will be likely that vibrating electromagnetic waves in specific sequences will be able to directly manipulate the brain into feeling something and smelling something that isn't there. You may be interested to know that air conditioning systems that cause some buildings to vibrate at a very low frequency are often the site of "haunting" s where people are said to feel uneasy and on edge.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Holodecks aren't just about processing power

      I would suspect the smell would be the easiest part to do,

      a bank of chemicals & some kind of high speed jet cannon to place the smell in the right place...

      I suspect it will be a pair of light weight 'sun' glasses type displays for each viewer that will make 'holodeck' environments possible...

      the hard part will be the floor, while we can build 360-degree treadmills, it is only usable for a single person...

      after that sense... I have heard of some air pressure based tech that MIGHT be able to simulate touch...

    5. squigbobble

      Re: Holodecks aren't just about processing power

      "For real authenticity these monitors would need to be capable of parallactic 3D"

      With a current technology and a few bottles of cider you can have paralytic 3D.

    6. rh587 Silver badge

      Re: Holodecks aren't just about processing power

      "For real authenticity these monitors would need to be capable of parallactic 3D (not the simple stereoscopic pseudo-3D of today's TVs) so if you move your head to see around a nearby tree, for example, what's behind the tree comes into view. And that technology is quite a long way off yet"

      Some of the 3D Virtual Caves are doing some pretty incredible stuff already. Of course you usually have to wear 3D glasses with ping pong balls hanging off so the computer knows where you are in the room, but parallactics are sort of around in some implementations. Think about it, in an FPS the game is giving you a parallactic image, with elements of the scene appearing or disappearing as you move around the map, and that's just regular gaming hardware. Okay, doing that in 3D is more complicated, and at a resolution that's going to fool the eye on close inspection (4K+), but with the bank of servers you would run a virtual cave off of, that processing power is there. To a point.

      Of course in a "holodeck" you're looking for massive and seamless immersive worlds without sitting and waiting for the next level to load! Not just short demonstration rooms to walk around in.

      With omni-directional treadmills on a gimble you can even run or walk in all directions, and go uphill/downhill etc. Of course the other tactile bits (like walking on gravel or a beach rather than a treadmill) just aren't possible without some sort of forcefield technology that can form a tactile surface. And THAT is a long way off!

      Fooling the eye isn't all that hard. It's all the other stuff that provided the true "holodeck experience"

    7. darkmage0707077
      Thumb Up

      Re: Holodecks aren't just about processing power

      Tactile sensation is already here in primitive, solid-mass form:

      Also, the ability to move forever without going anywhere, in any direction, without smacking into the walls is in prototype:

      And the ability to look behind objects based on your view point has been worked out using a Nintendo Wii:

      Olfactory...well, we can't have everything now, can we, or else we'd have build the thing! Though there are companies working hard on that:

      So here's what we still need:

      -Artificial olfactory creators

      -The ability to "solidify" energy (true force fields) and change those fields into whatever shape we want, while allowing un-protected manipulation during the simulation (it's not a real holodek if you HAVE to wear gloves when you go in)

      -The ability to track ones head position without having to wear anything or being able to see the cameras (should be easy if the force fields are made, just hide cameras behind them)

      -Seamless, near omni-directional screens which would allow a seamless picture to be presented.

      -Advance all technologies out of prototype and integrate them

      Bonus points if the ability to seamlessly and instantly turn on/off sensory deceivers depending on the user's current viewpoint (i.e. If they can't see it, why waste resources showing it). This would actually go BEYOND the Star Trek holodeck's capabilities by providing massive energy savings and allow resources to be concentrated where they're needed most at current, rather then wasting them on effects that mean nothing (Zelda Ocarnia of Time made use of this trick).

  5. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Re: It'll all be in the mind

      I think you'll find it is already in the mind. As in, it only exists in the mind of an AMD marketing bullshitter. Just because he's been given a budget sufficient to hire a jobbing TV actor for an hour doesn't legitimise a single word of the allusion to Sci-Fi technology. How about starting by figuring out how to make two people in the same room see each other as if a mile apart? Or make a projected figure appear to stand between them? I think the more important question is, has anyone tested this line of bull for horseshit content?

  6. RISC OS

    From my understanding oh holodeck technology....

    ...much of the material in the holodeck is really what it looks like... they use replicator and transporter technology to do that... I can't see that coming anytime soon.

    1. Busby

      Re: From my understanding oh holodeck technology....

      That was my understanding of the (fictional) technology. So it's a bit disingenuous to trumpt this as potential holodeck technology. They may have the processing power to come up with some pretty convincing VR environments but the holodeck technology went above and beyond that in terms of capability.

      But you never know in 20 years time we may have replicator technology but I doubt it. As for transporters I think that one will likely remain in the realm of fiction.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Holodecks appeared briefly in "Space Battleship Yamato" ("Star Blazer") before TNG

    In one of the first episodes of "Space Battleship Yamato", when the robot Analyzer (IQ-9) shows the ship to Susumu Kodai (Derek Wildstar), he also briefly shows and holodeck for recreational activities while travelling in space. I do not remember if it was ever shown again after that episode.

    I always wondered if TNG borrowed it from the japanese anime, or "invented" it independently.

    1. Richard Scratcher

      Re: Holodecks appeared briefly in...

      The animated series of Star Trek featured a holodeck in an episode called "The Practical Joker". This was aired in September 1974. The holodeck was then called the "Recreation Deck".

      The concept of a holodeck was suggested to Gene Rodenberry by the holographer Gene Dolgoff in 1973. Mr Dologoff spent a lot of time in his lab mucking about with lasers and convinced Gene Rodenberry that interactive holograms would be a commonplace technology in the future.

  8. GrantB

    end of the human race

    I remember an observation in a Douglas Adams (Dilbert) book, that if holodecks ever got as good as depicted in ST:TNG then reproduction of the human race would cease as people could/would simply live their lives within a personal fantasy world never needing to emerge. I think he makes a good point; it would be amazingly addictive.

    1. Uncle Slacky Silver badge

      Re: end of the human race

      It's *Scott* Adams, and it was also explored by Red Dwarf's total immersion video game "Better Than Life".

    2. Intractable Potsherd

      Re: end of the human race

      True, and cleaning the holodeck after the majority of users would be a punishment detail ...

  9. Dan 55 Silver badge

    Was it really 25 years ago?

    Damn you El Reg, you've made me feel old yet again.

  10. Ged T

    Three letters and one word spoilers - D R M and Copyright

    In a world of patents and litigous protection, could you really expect that holodeck capability to be commercially realised? The technical costs of development are likely to be dwarfed by the size of the insurance premium or 'set-aside' money you'd need to pay off of the licence holders....

  11. Rikkeh

    Safety protocols

    Hopefully, they'll make it harder to disable to safety settings than it was in TNG.

  12. Electric sheep


    If they want performance why suggest an interpreted language?

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: java?

      You remember the episode when the Holodeck went crazy?

      That's Java letting the virus in.

      1. Francis Boyle

        Re: java?

        That episode?I remember all of them and to be fair most were down to flash vulns.

  13. Smallbrainfield

    IIRC, holodecks use a combination of forcefields, holographic projection and replicator technology.

    I would suggest we are more than a few decades from achieving at least two of those technologies.

  14. Mage Silver badge

    More likely Tad Williams Otherland*

    With special gloves or even an entire suit (for tactile ear plugs), 2 x projectors on to retina (with Body + head + eye tracking so "3D" works even with one eye closed) and optionally even a sensory deprivation tank I think it can be done today. It would SEEM like a Holodeck, but the other people need not even be at the same location.

    A chamber you walk into wearing the appropriate "ordinary" clothes still seems fictional no matter how much CPU you have.

    Like 2D display the Internet with GOOD fast broadband is enough if you have the local processing for your head set / gloves / boots / suit / tank. You want less than 50ms Latency and "mostly" it will seem realistic. If the Broadband connection is lost the models of the other people just "freeze".

    Also unlike Holodeck but like "otherland" you can have a wide range of "body" and with high end tactile feedback suit and a tank it will FEEL like your body as well as look like it.

    Unlike a holodeck we do pretty much have the technology for "Otherland" today. If we figure how to generate fake tactile an inner ear movement sensations with just a patch on your head, then the suit and mobile tank (needs to have 4 axis movement to fool your sense of balance) become obsolete.

    [* Much prior art, e.g. John Brunner "The Sheep look up" (? hard to believe The Shockwave Rider is1975) , Nicolas van Pallandt "Anvil" and many more]

    1. Sooty

      Re: More likely Tad Williams Otherland*

      In otherland the serious net users had their brains plugged in directly, even wirelessly for the expensive kit, which is probably a more practical way of getting a holodeck like experience. I think they've even had something similar in Star Trek calling it a poor mans holodeck.

  15. BenR

    Much more likely to see the light of day as, at least initially and for the near-to-medium term, as a semi-interactive viewer. Visual and audio only - none of the olfactory or tactile nonsense.

    If they could project in holographic 3D - rather than projecting 2x 2D images and using a parallax barrier to trick your brain - it'd be awesome for sporting events and the like. Imagine watching the FA Cup Final from your front room, but it feeling as if you're actually there. Being able to pan, zoom and tilt the camera to get the best view. Possibly to the extent that you could just have a continually moving view that follows the ball from a distance of ten feet?

    It'd almost not be live, but a Hawkeye-type-system generated render in real-time, sort of a cross between a live video stream and an extremely highly-detailed game of FIFA - or whatever you happen to be watching.

    Same for films as well really.

    Anything more than that is a HUGE pipe dream though.

  16. IronSteve

    I always saw holodeck technology being driven by the sex industry. If you really had a room that could simulate almost any scenario, what would you spend your time doing?

    1. Steven Roper

      Me? Worldbuilding, much more so than sex. Sex only has so much appeal, after all. Even if it's with a generated ideal of your perfect partner, what happens when you've blown your load for the tenth time in a day and your hormones are past satiated? For me, worldbuilding would be far more satisfying use of such a technology.

      OTOH, I am 46 and maybe I'm just getting on a bit! ;)

      Beer, because like sex it's socially expected that there's no such thing as too much of it...

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Holodeck != VR

    The title suggested that AMD might be sitting on some breakthrough in;


    Matter Transportation (i.e Teleportation),

    Matter Replication

    Inertial Field Manipulation (with gravity or general field manipulation to allow for sky diving etc).

    All these technologies were required for the Holodeck to work (it wasnt even a deck it was a room).

    But no, they are promoting more processing power, I suggest that by the time we figure out one of the above technologies we will have more than enough compute power, computer power is the last thing we need to worry about here.

  18. SirDigalot

    The holodeck always confused me

    As has been said earlier, 2 or 3 people, walking in opposite directions or, 1 person(s) entering the room and having to "search" for the other party always seemed a bit to much of a stretch, then I thought about how it could be done, since the "treadmill" effect allows you to walk indefinitely, after you take a few steps. the computer would then basically surround you in your own "holoworld" possibly only a couple of feet in diameter or even just your head/shoulders in order to keep the illusion in place, then it would feed you auditory/visual clues and keep you on the "treadmill" when you look behind you the other person you entered with is actually a computer generated recreation of them until they are within touching distance therefore no one really moves more than say 3 feet from one another ( the room was big and I assume had a limited capacity for people otherwise it would not work (they would all be touching while seeming far away which would be a major mindfreak) we will of course ignore the whole forcefield thing and the ability to actually project a localized image around a person without the use of some sort of screen or diffusing device, but it is seems quite more feasible, however I would imagine unless it projects an image to an outside person at the door it would look strange to see a few people standing around in a large room seemingly talking to themselves ( or other things) rather like an Ipod party or many of the mmorpgs you see a random character just standing there...

    recently going to universal studios and seeing the new harry potter ride it was very well done, but after going on it a second time it was very easy to see the issues and tricks pulled, especially in the flying scenes, although that said I do not doubt we will at least be able to have some sort of individual immersion room in the not too distant future, matter replication, and multiple people in the same room however without some sort of AI to track eyes and head movements will bea bit further off then they are hinting at in my opinion

  19. Stuart Halliday
    Thumb Up

    No need for all that technology!

    Arthur C. Clarke got it right in his book 3001: A Space Odyssey

    Wear a full sense-replacement hat. It replaces all your senses with computer created ones.

    So you think you're walking when you're not. It shows your brain what it wants to see. Touch and smell are just as simulated.

    So you want to walk down a beach in Japan with your mates, then you just all put on one of these hats and you're there. You want your house redecorated? Just tell the hat what colour you want the walls to be...

  20. Robert E A Harvey

    Oi! Science!

    Now look, lads. You promised me Flying Cars before you promised me Holodecks. One thing at a time, eh?

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