(Photo by Tom Sawyer for ENR)

Zebra Imaging Inc., Austin, Texas, produces 2x2-ft tiles burned with holograms generated from any 3-D data source. They leap into three dimensions when illuminated by any point-source light, such as the sun or a halogen lamp. Zebra has received $10.1 million from Menlo Park, Calif.-based Sierra Ventures, with other participants, and $2 million from the Advanced Technology Program of the National Institute for Standards and Technology. The money is for refining production techniques to reduce price and speed delivery.

Instead of painting objects with laser beams and capturing interference patterns to generate holograms, Zebra computes the patterns with software from 3-D data. “Anything with 3-D coordinates,” says Michael Klug, chief technology officer and co-founder. Myriad perspectives are computed and encoded onto film using a proprietary recording system. “We’re still using laser light, only now we don’t need the object,” says Klug.

The tiles are composed of 1-mm-square picture elements the company calls hogels. The elements are analogous to pixels, except each contains about 4.3 megabytes of data. A monochrome 2-ft tile contains about 500 gigabytes of data. Monochrome tiles can be produced in about 90 minutes, at a cost of about $2,500, but color ones take 72 hours and cost about $8,000. Information is available at www.zebraimaging.com.

hree inventors who parlayed a college fascination for holograms into a futuristic business and a fistful of patents recently landed a chunk of funding to help bring their magic to the masses.