Plain old video calls could soon be made to look very outdated, thanks to new research coming out of Queen's University in Ontario. A team there has produced a 3D teleconferencing system called TeleHuman 2, which enables real-time holograms of people to appear in any location.
Imagine being stood in a meeting and having a 3D projection of your boss or client appear in the middle of the floor – a projection that moves and talks just like a flesh-and-blood human, and which you can view from any angle. Think the holodeck from Star Trek, and you're close to what the TeleHuman 2 is capable of.
On the capture side, an array of depth cameras are used to monitor a participant's movements in three dimensions, data that's then beamed across to a ring of intelligent projectors in another room in an entirely different location. The holographic images are then projected into a retro-reflective, human-sized cylindrical pod.
It's all based around light field technology – capturing and projecting the intensity of light and the direction that light rays are traveling through space. A conventional camera system only deals in the intensity of light, without the 3D element.
As the virtual meeting attendee is being captured and displayed using multiple light field images covering multiple angles, those who are physically in the same room don't need any kind of AR or VR headgear. Having this kind of virtual presence makes for better interactions than a video call, say the researchers.
"Face-to-face interaction transfers an immense amount of non-verbal information," says Roel Vertegaal, Professor of Human-Computer Interaction at the Queen's University School of Computing, and head of the Queen's Human Media Lab. "This information is lost in online tools, promoting poor online behaviors. Users miss the proxemics, gestures, facial expressions, and eye contact that bring nuance, emotional connotation and ultimately empathy to a conversation. TeleHuman 2 injects these missing elements into long-distance conversations with a realism that cannot be achieved with a Skype or Facetime video chat."
Work on the system goes all the way back to 2012, but in recent years the team has managed to improve the system significantly and get it working for multiple viewers in the same room, so it's no longer just one-on-one.
Business meetings will benefit from more natural interactions, easier eye contact, and less awkwardness, the researchers say – and anyone who's ever sat in on a teleconference meeting will be able to attest to frequent moments of awkwardness.
What's more, the uses of the technology go beyond boardroom meetings. Vertegaal and his colleagues say the TeleHuman 2 system could be used to bring 3D representations of music artists into the crowd as well as on stage, giving gig attendees the chance to see their idols up close, if not exactly in the flesh.
"People often think of holograms as the posthumous Tupac Shakur performance at Coachella 2012," says Vertegaal. "Tupac's image, however, was not a hologram but a Pepper Ghost: A two-dimensional video projected on a flat piece of glass. With TeleHuman 2, we're bringing actual holograms to life."
Exactly when this technology will become reliable and affordable enough to make it into your office isn't clear, but it's a glimpse of what we can expect in the future. The researchers presented their work at the ACM CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems this month, and you can view a video demonstration below.
Source: Queen's University
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