Google's Project Starline is the 3D video chat portal of the future
We've already had plenty of announcements from the Google I/O 2021 developer event happening this week, but Google has also been showing off a 3D video conferencing app that it's working on called Project Starline.
The aim of the software is to make video calling a more immersive experience, deploying a variety of technologies and tricks to make it feel more like the person you're conversing with is actually in the room with you.
While the coronavirus pandemic means we're all now more used to video chat, it's not the same as meeting face-to-face, and Project Starline wants to bridge part of that gap. In the works for several years now, Google has been showing off a little bit of its potential.
"Imagine looking through a sort of magic window, and through that window, you see another person, life-size and in three dimensions. You can talk naturally, gesture and make eye contact," explains Google's Clay Bavor in a blog post.
Three key technologies are combined: the 3D model capture at one end, the real-time compression of that video data in the middle, and the rendering of someone in 3D at the other end of the call.
Google hasn't gone into a huge amount of detail about how this all works, but from the demo video that it has released, we can see that the current setup involves a chunky array of cameras and sensors, and a large display fixed inside a booth. Project Starline is installed in just a handful of Google offices right now, but enterprise demos are planned for later this year.
According to Lauren Goode at Wired, who has tested out the system, the 3D video chatting portal works through the same light field display technology that we've seen used to map out depth information in other augmented reality and virtual reality products. Depth, volume and shadows can all be captured and broadcast.
It's obviously going to take a while before Project Starline makes its way into a large number of homes and offices, but the technology will inevitably become cheaper and more compact over time. It certainly looks like a substantial upgrade over what we're all stuck with today. You can see the tech demoed in the video below.