Hologram tech could soon replace video calls

Christoph Grainger Herr, Swiss watch boss, was unable fly to a China-based global trade show due to Covid-19 restrictions. He decided to beam Star Trek-style.

14 December 2021 Tuesday 13:02
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Hologram tech could soon replace video calls

The chief executive of IWC luxury brand, Mr Grainger Herr, was due to travel to Shanghai Watches and Wonders in April.

Instead of trying to make it work, he decided that he would join the show as a 3D hologram. He was able speak to and see the people present at the event in 4K resolution.

David Nussbaum (the boss of US holograms company Portl) says, "We beamed he from his office, Schaffhausen in Switzerland to the event in Shanghai."

"He did his job, talked to executives and even unveiled a brand new watch in real-time. We beamed him again! "The coronavirus pandemic has halted much global travel since March 2020. This has sparked a growing interest to holograms, 3D light projections that show a person, as a more real-life, immersive, and more sensory option to video calls.

Portl, Los Angeles-based technology firm, is at the forefront. Mr Nussbaum said that "we can't build our portals quickly enough."

The portals are 8 feet tall (2.5m) high and have glass fronts. They also come with computerised boxes. The booths contain a life-size hologram that can be seen and heard through the speakers. The holograms also have microphones and cameras so that the user can hear and see the people behind the projection.

The person must know where he or she is physically standing. This can be anywhere on the other side from the portal machine. All they need is a camera, a backdrop and another set of speakers, microphones, and a microphone.

Portl's software, controlled by an app, connects the person to the portal(s) via the internet. You can connect to as many portals as you wish.

"There is almost zero latency [delay]," Mr Nussbaum says. "And if it weren't for the sheet glass in front, the hologram would have made it seem like the person was actually there. If the light is not visible through the glass, you will think that the person is there.

Portl is designed for business customers and is being used currently by T-Mobile and Netflix.

These portals are priced at $60,000 (PS45,000 each), so they are definitely expensive. However, the company claims they can be rented for significantly less.

"In a few decades time, this will become a regular method of communicating between offices," says Mr Nussbaum.

Microsoft's hologram communication technology relies on a headset called HoloLens 2. They cost $3,500 each, which is significantly less than Portl's system. However, the HoloLens 2 headset from Microsoft allows for hologram communication technology.

Greg Sullivan, Microsoft's director of mixed reality, stated that it would appear they were in the same physical space and they could walk around a virtual desk and collaborate.

Thyssenkrupp, a German engineering company, is another firm that puts the technology to use.

It was once one of the largest elevator and lift manufacturer in the world. To make repairs, its technicians had to travel around the globe. Instead of flying around the world to fix any problems, employees can now use HoloLens 2, a Holographic headset that connects in holographic with local technicians and guides them through the process.

Japan Airlines has been using headsets to train crew members and engine mechanics.

Ikin, a San Diego-based hologram company, is more focused on the consumer market. It will launch a device that can be clipped to your smartphone and project into the air a transparent 3D image of the person with whom you are having a video chat.

Gordon Wetzstein is an associate professor at Stanford University of electrical engineering and computer sciences. He believes that holograms communicate better than video conferencing.

"With holograms, you can make eye contact. He says that subtle cues such as who is looking at whom can be read by the eye.

He warns, however, that problems could arise in the future if these images are so real they cannot be distinguished from an actual person.

Mr Wetzstein says, "If you can create synthetic or digital experiences that are closer to reality than you perceive it, then you are more susceptible to being manipulated."

Portl's first investor was Tim Draper. He was also an early backer for both Skype and Tesla. Mr Nussbaum of Portl says that hologram technology will replace standard video screens in video conference in five years.

He predicts it will also replace video information screens. We'll be replacing every single digital kiosk in every mall and lobby in no time. This will be the new way businesses want to present their content, live or recorded.

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