The video conference of the future has arrived, and it’s every bit as out-of-this-world as a “Star Wars” hologram. Thanks to Canadian researchers who have developed a 3D video conference technology that projects a life-size, 360-degree, real-time holograph version of your video chat partner – whether they’re right next door, or in a galaxy far, far away.
Canadian researchers at the Human Media Lab in Toronto, Canada have introduced a human-scale 3D video conferencing pod. This pod can beam a 3D holographic version of your conference companion – in full color and with sound – into the room with you. Even if you’re conferencing with an individual thousands of miles away, this video chat holograph displays your chat partner as a life-size replica, with an accurate depiction of their image viewable from the front, sides, or back.
“Why Skype when you can talk to a life-size 3D holographic image?” says Dr. Roel Vertegaal, director of the Human Media Lab that developed the TeleHuman 3D video conference system. The 3D conference pod is actually a human body-size tube that internally projects a 3D image (from every angle) of your video chat partner, as if the person was, in fact, standing there.
This makes the TeleHuman system arguably the most advanced 3D video streaming display currently available, but it was built entirely from existing technologies. The researchers used Microsoft Kinect body sensors, strategically placing ten Kinect sensors in different parts of the pod to capture full body movement. The pod consists of a 6.5-foot cylinder, with a stereoscopic DepthQ projector and an Nvidia 3D Vision Kit built into the bottom. Researchers then built a convex mirror into the top of the pod, allowing the projector to shoot the video feed into the mirror and create a holographic 3D display.
3D VIDEO CHAT OFFERS ADVANTAGES
The video conference industry has delivered some notable recent upgrades, like video chat through social networks and video conferencing for online tax preparation. 3D video conferencing, though, could be the final frontier of video calls – capturing the most subtle elements of human communication, like eye gaze, gestures, and body pose. What happens in 3D video conferencing will pave the way for 3D video chat.
Dr. Vertegaal’s research team has developed another similar application for the medical science industry, called the BodiPod. The Bodipod not only projects a person’s full body in 3D, but also allows a doctor to remove certain layers of tissue from the body’s projected image. With just the wave of a hand, a physician can “peel” off a patient’s skin or muscle tissue to get an accurate look at the patient’s internal organs.
HOLOGRAM TECHNOLOGY IN THE NEWS
The history of digital video is dotted with many technological breakthroughs, and many of those in digital 3D holograms have occurred in just the last few months. A hologram projection of the late rapper Tupac Shakur was the hit of Coachella Music Festival, and now the rock band Queen is planning to hologram deceased vocalist Freddie Mercury into an upcoming reunion concert. Edinburgh researchers are currently using 3D holograph technology to study 2,000-year-old mummies without unwrapping them. The British supermarket chain Asda has already rolled out a program employing holograms as Walmart-style “greeters” in its retail stores.
The TeleHuman 3D video conferencing system described above is still years away from being made available to consumers. On top of that, developers project that one TeleHuman unit will cost north of $5,000. The technology, however, already exists, and researchers are fine-tuning the quality of the projected 3D image while devising ways to include more than two 3D video chat participants. The 3D video conference may seem like something out of a “Star Wars” movie, but the future is not that far, far away.