Numerous companies like Meta are creating virtual worlds where far away coworkers can interact using Pixar-like avatars. At the moment, it has all the naturalness of a high school dance where everyone is standing off to the side.
Google is taking a different approach with Project Starline, not creating an elaborate virtual fantasy, but an intimate video chat that seeks the most realistic way for two people to talk when they’re nowhere near each other.
While video-calling booths conjure up images of Blade Runner payphones, Google’s feels more like a magic window. The booth uses 3D imagery, light field display systems, high-resolution tracking cameras, and spatial audio to create a real sense that there’s actually another person on the other side of the glass. It’s only a matter of time before someone forgets it’s a screen and tries to walk through it.
Begun last year, the project is being expanded with an early access program that will see prototypes tested around the country at companies like Salesforce, WeWork, T-Mobile, and Hackensack Meridian Health (sorry Chuck E. Cheese).
“The proliferation of hybrid work models is creating new opportunities to fundamentally rethink how we collaborate in the workplace,” says Scott Morey, president of technology and innovation at WeWork.
“Project Starline is at the forefront of this shift, providing an incredible user experience that bridges the gap between our physical and virtual worlds.”
There are no headsets to put on, no earpieces to put in, and no stilted talking that’s a regular feature with 20 floating heads in a Zoom work call. Instead, one simply walks into a room and the 3D holographic tech creates the impression that there’s another room next to it.
While it’s being tested with offices and will give new meaning to having that one-on-one talk with your boss (getting fired through Project Starline would have a little less sting than hearing it from an avatar), the applications are endless: family members unable to travel, doctor’s appointments, and, unfortunately, probably first dates.
Hopefully they make that glass really strong.
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