A Robot Buddy who happens to be made out of light.
Holography is the very real technique of using lasers to create a three dimensional image. It's very difficult and requires precisely calculated conditions and a bunch of costly hardware, but it's visually stunning, at least the first few times you see one. Technically, what is popularly called a "hologram" in science fiction is really called a volumetric display, as a true hologram is recorded onto a visual medium that provides the illusion of volume.
The character may be constrained by power or the availability of a projector to add flavor.
Frequently coupled with Tin Man or Mission Control. The inverse (human projection inside a computer world) is the Digital Avatar. Compare Astral Projection, where a living person makes their soul similar to this.
The name comes from the British science fiction movie, The Projected Man, that was riffed on Mystery Science Theater 3000. The eponymous character was more like a mutated freak with electricity powers than an example of this trope.
- Masha, the Robot Buddy in Tokyo Mew Mew, can project a hologram of Ryou, his Teen Genius creator, when the latter needs to tell something to the girls and can't be there himself.
- Reinforce Zwei was depicted as this in the Distant Finale of Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A's. She's become a lot more solid since.
- Canal in Lost Universe is a Spaceship Girl in a Meido outfit. (Well, usually in a meido outfit.)
- Blassreiter has Elea, a quirky AI who projects herself as a sexy imp. The epilogue introduces her successor, Maria.
- When robotic superheroes get heavily damaged (and they frequently do) they will often be projected until their bodies are completed. The most notable cases are Red Tornado (DC) and Vision (Marvel), the latter of whom changes his density anyway as a superpower.
- Stel from the Green Lantern Corps (DC) does this too at some point.
- The mutant who uses the nickname Blue has an area of cyberspace mapped out like Tron, and there he has his own Projected Man 'Clu'.
- In the later Sonic the Hedgehog Archie comics, NICOLE appears as a lynx using this trope.
- In All Fall Down, AIQ Squared appears as this.
- The Portal 2 fanfic Blue Sky has Wheatley transferred into a Hard Light body. It's so realistic that several characters don't even realize he's not human - at one point, he shows a plug in the back of his neck to the local technology expert, and the other character is so stunned he decides he needs a drink before the conversation can continue.
- Gene is able to covert the ghosts of those who unlucky into a mix of this and Virtual Ghost in Final Stand of Death. He even can projects a Hologram of Redd's original body .
- A future human society in Stephen Baxter's Manifold Space makes use of "limited-sentience projections" as messengers. Initially Nemoto appears several times via more ordinary holographic telepresence (it's really her, talking as if over the phone), making for an unexpected What Measure Is a Non-Human? moment much further into the future when another character asks the projection what exactly it is; Virtual Nemoto explains and then looks horrified before dissolving into light. (And you thought Star Trek holograms had it bad...)
- Andromeda appears to have borrowed the concept, as in at least one instance, a message is sent in the form of an interactive holographic recreation of the sender.
- Alfred Bester's Computer Connection apparently used this technique to replace both telephones (called "projecting") and advertising. The latter reversed the traditional payment scheme of advertising in that consumers could pay a monthly fee to maintain the insulation in their homes to keep the advertising out.
- Subverted in Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds, when one character is being rude to what she thinks is a holographic avatar, only to find it's a real person she's talking to. "We used to use avatars, but they put up with too much crap."
- The Skylark Series by E. E. "Doc" Smith has the Hard Light version of this, and may well be the Ur Example.
- Jane, from the sequels to Ender's Game, started out as an extremely complex game/psychology test, but eventually developed sentience, and chose a young woman as her preferred avatar. Although holographic displays are standard for personal computers in this universe, the displays can only project holograms in a limited range above themselves.
- Colin from Mona Lisa Overdrive manifests this way.
- Wayfarer by Dennis Schmidt has a scene where the main character manages to get aboard a ship still orbiting the planet and meets a holographic projection of the colony fleet's (now long-dead) admiral. The computer running it is programmed with enough of the admiral's knowledge and personality that the simulation could actually exercise a limited degree of command in routine matters; this allows it to give the hero some useful advice based on the real admiral's mastery of Zen.
- The titular character of Automan
- Rimmer in Red Dwarf, although he very definitely did not fit the mold of Robot Buddy.
- Darien's sidekick Selma in Time Trax. She is almost a Virtual Ghost, as her appearance was based on a photograph of Darien's late mother.
- The Doctor in Star Trek: Voyager, and a number of other characters late in the Star Trek franchise.
- One of Andromeda's three selves in Andromeda.
- Used by Mission: Impossible in a few of their conjobs, particularly notable in the episode Holograms.
- Caravaggio from Starhunter.
- Al from Quantum Leap isn't actually a hologram, but functions like one from Sam's point of view.
- However, Sam and the world around him, appear as this to Al back in the present because he is in an "imaging chamber" much like a Star Trek Holodeck.
- Similarly Asgard communications technology in Stargate SG-1 functions by projecting a full-body hologram of the user to wherever the person they want to talk to is, apparently without the need for an emitter at the recieving end, allowing for some handy Intangible Man shinnanigans.
- Several characters on Babylon 5 are able to communicate this way while making use of the Great Machine. Two out of three characters who do this on the show tend to be Large Hams for some reason.
- Cyber-Cam from Power Rangers Ninja Storm, who regular Cam created to handle some of his responsibilities when he became the Sixth Ranger and found that managing that and being the Mission Control was too exhausting.
- Cortana from Halo, who is also a Voice with an Internet Connection and arguably a Mission Control, with a good bit of Playful Hacker thrown in.
- Ditto for Serina in Halo Wars. In fact, most A Is in the Halo universe (and there are several) use a holographic human avatar.
- In the video game The Suffering, the hero has to, among many other things, deal with a Projected Man...using decades old technology. Much creepiness ensues, including having to destroy the projectors to stop him from reviving certain enemies.
- Beyond Good and Evil has Secundo, an Ambiguously Spanish holographic AI who manages Jade's inventory and e-mail for her. He's also a Chekhov's Gunman, as his short on-screen appearance at the beginning of the game only hints at the fact that his computerized nature will prove very helpful at the game's end.
- Nearly every Virtual Intelligence encountered in the game Mass Effect is a perfect example of this trope. The one exception is the rogue VI found on Earth's moon. It's rogue status may or may not have something to do with this.
- These are actually a special case; when a VI is designed for interpersonal interaction (such as Avina, the asari VI on the Citadel) it has a human- or asari-shaped projection. There's actually a VI in almost everything, from your omnitool to your biotic implant to your assault rifle. The rogue VI on the moon didn't have a projection because it was designed for organising drones for combat simulations, not for directing people to the nearest bar or restaurant.
- EDI in the sequel inverts this in that she projects herself as a sphere of blue lights, but is a genuine self-aware AI.
- Similarly, holographic projections are commonly used for long distance communication, at least for folks important enough to make direct calls to Commander Shepard, a list that is generally limited to leaders or representatives of powerful organizations.
- Sora in Ever 17 (at least until the True Ending, where she becomes a Robot Girl).
- The sequel to Knights of the Old Republic has the G0-T0 droid who hides behind his Secret Identity of Goto, a middle aged man communicating only through hologram projection.
- In Destroy All Humans!, Pox becomes this when he downloads his conscious into a float disk just before their main ship was destroyed. He stays this way for a decade before finally getting himself a new body, though not what he expected.
- Eliza of Deus Ex Human Revolution is life live hologram.
- In the Schlock Mercenary universe AIs that are not embedded in small mobile robots - and especially those that control ships - are usually represented by holograms for interaction with "meatbags". Karl Tagon mentions inconvenience of talking with a faceless voice here, then our good captain expresses the same sentiment on these three pages. And for the sake of exposition, as they themselves occasionally notice, even for direct interaction between AIs themselves.
- An example of why the choice of the avatar (as well as personality traits), may have importance beyond a fashion statement of AI in question is here (Para gave Tagii a Sassy Secretary persona on purpose). This non-verbal communication extension is widespread across many species of sophonts. Some exceptions are Haban, who is embedded into a human body, Ennesby, who has a physical flying body and was talking through it or just speakers when he was a ship AI, and TAG who pulled "disembodied voice" on purpose.
- These faces are occasionally subjected to meaningful cosmetic changes, including occasional Madness Makeover. Petey's avatar used to adjust automatically. After Tagon's request, Para and Bristlecone picked the avatar, but later Cindercone (AI formerly known as Bristlecone) decided to change face on purpose (explained why on the next page).
- By extension, the "downlifts" currently in mindframe do the same to talk with people back in meatspace, like Iafa, other ancient Oafa, or Thurl.
- Subverted in Futurama, where a miniature Projected Man version of Hermes appears to the other characters to relay a message but is then carried away by a pigeon. When the (real) Hermes appears next, he is sporting various plasters.
- Slight twist: In some continuities, Transformers have holograms of drivers in their vehicle modes so that they don't appear to be driving themselves. In the latest comic series, the driver avatars are Hard Light projections that can operate some distance from their robot bodies.
- Sixshot in Transformers Headmasters projects copies of himself to fight; they're made of Hard Light. Prowl in Transformers Animated seems to have picked up a similar trick, but without the hardness (and a crimefighter in the comic named "Wraith" is able to project a moving hologram of himself that he controls from a nearby truck).
- In Transformers: Robots in Disguise, T-AI is a sentient computer who projects a holographic image of herself. She even operates equally holographic keypads to make the computer (which is her) do stuff. Transformers Wiki summed up the Fridge Logic of this. Of course, the Rule of Cool is definitely in effect.
- A number of computer science textbooks use persons operating levers or buttons to make stuff happen as a visual metaphor for the processes going on in a computer. Perhaps this is supposed to be something similar, with T-AI as the operating system and the keypads representing commands sent to the actual hardware? But yeah, Rule of Cool probably explains it better.
- In later episodes of Danny Phantom we see that Vlad made himself a holographic version of Danny's mother as his lab assistant. When Danny attacks his laboratory, the hologram and the AI glitches says it prefers to be with the holographic Jack Fenton than with him. He later fixes that "flaw".
- In "Phantom Planet" it turns out he's using at least two holographic Maddies on his space station and at one point they fight over who's the favorite.
- Synergy from Jem.
- Jem herself doesn't count since it's more of We Will Not Use Stage Make-Up in the Future, but Jerrica has had Synergy project holograms of Jem (or holograms of Jerrica if she's in her Jem alter-ego) to prevent her cover from being blown when the need for both of them to be in the same room at the same time arises.
- "Whenever T-AI makes radio contact with any off-base Autobots, she initiates it by pressing a sequence of buttons on a keypad. Considering that these elements are all a part of the same computer, T-AI is in fact projecting and controlling the holographic representation of herself and making it use the keypad that controls T-AI, herself. She is effectively telling herself to tell herself what to do. If you also factor in the fact that the hologram is totally incorporeal, and therefore cannot actually make contact with the keypad, then the assorted beeps and lights that seemingly indicate when the buttons are being pressed are actually being controlled from within T-AI like a player piano, and therefore don't need to be pressed even if the hologram could press them. This gives me a headache."