Is a holographic restaurant menu the future? Or just a neat party trick?
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Your restaurant menu might be your most important customer touchpoint. Would you be willing to entrust your restaurant menu to a cutting edge technology that takes your menu beyond the traditional printed page?

We are talking holograms here. Well, sort of.

Holographic projections have been a staple of science fiction since that famous scene in Star Wars when R2-D2 projects a hologram of Princess Leia pleading for assistance.

Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope,” implores a shimmering Princess Leia.

Perhaps, in the future, she might also suggest an order of the lemon meringue pie.

A holographic Princess Leia from Star Wars: A New Hope.
A holographic Princess Leia from Star Wars: A New Hope.

Restaurant Menu of the Future

One company is trying to turn science fiction into restaurant reality. Hololamp is a start-up that creates portable, hands-free/glasses-free augmented reality applications. In short, Hololamp makes a portable projector that, through some nifty tricks, can make projected images appear to be three dimensional.

Hololamp’s first major product development is a portable projector intended to be used as a restaurant menu. The device is placed on the table and projects 3D models of the food for the customer. The customer can navigate the menu with touch commands that are also projected onto the restaurant tabletop.

Check out Hololamp’s demo video to get a quick look at how the technology could be used:

Hololamp demo of an augmented reality restaurant menu application.

How Does it Work?

While the Hololamp appears to project a hologram onto the restaurant tabletop, all is not what it appears to be. The portable projector uses 200 lumens to project a bright image on to the table top. But this is a flat image. And here is where the magic happens. The projector unit also serves as a face-tracking monitor. The unit tracks head and face position of the user to use parallaxis to change the image the user sees as their head changes position. This gives the illusion that the image is three dimensional.

Computerworld spoke to Hololamp founder, Alan Jay at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) earlier this year. He noted that the system uses the same software used to create realistic looking video games.

We then track your face using our device, and because we know where you are, we can take the 3D object, form a 2D projection of it onto the tabletop with the projector, and then as you move, change the projection, so it is as if you were looking at a 3D object,” said Jay.

The image tricks your brain. But it’s a pretty nifty illusion.

The touch interface is actually something that has been around for a number of years now. You may have seen computer keyboards that can be projected onto a tabletop. Users can then “type” on that keyboard and have their keystrokes tracked to create input just like a regular keyboard.

A projected keyboard turns any flat surface into an input device.
A projected keyboard turns any flat surface into an input device.

While these keyboards have gotten mixed reviews, the technological concept is a promising one.

To create the “3D” content, each food item shown must first be scanned from multiple angles.  Photorealistic, 3D models of the food are then created.

3D models are created from multiple images.
3D models are created from multiple images.

Opportunities & Limitations

The Hololamp restaurant menu application has a big “wow” factor. But it’s not without its downsides. It’s hard to imagine that many restaurants would have the in-house knowledge and/or manpower to create the digital 3D models of each of their menu items. Even if you outsource this piece, the costs could be prohibitive.

Although this is a very promising first application of this new technology, future iterations may very well improve upon the current system’s limitations. For example, using 3D models of the food can appear a bit cartoonish and may not represent a restaurant’s offerings in a manner consistent with the overall restaurant brand.

A 3D model of a lemon meringue pie. Click or swipe to explore.

Hololamp notes that the models are helpful in showing portion sizes to customers. In addition, dishes can be viewed from all angles. This isn’t possible with a single photograph.

But perhaps the biggest benefit to the use of a Hololamp for your restaurant menu has to do with the customer experience. As we have reported elsewhere, a unique experience can influence a customer’s perception of your restaurant’s food.

Another issue is that the current app is a single-user experience. Because the unit monitors face position, it only works for the person being tracked. Short of projecting actual holograms, there probably isn’t a way around this for now.

Although not explicitly stated, the projection obviously works best on a plain white background. The result would not be nearly as compelling on a brown, wood tabletop.

The application does suggest some natural extensions. With the explosion of individual tableside entertainment, the Hololamp would appear to be a natural fit. Instead of a screen, games or other entertainment could be projected directly onto the tabletop.

Evolution of the Restaurant Menu

Let’s face it. The restaurant menu isn’t going anywhere any time soon. The printed menu is a key component of restaurant culture. But embracing new technology may be a differentiator for some types of foodservice businesses.

In the right context, this technology could be game-changing. We are very excited to see how this technology evolves in the restaurant industry.

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