Sci-Fi geeks rejoice as scientists say that they are one step closer to turning their hologram science fiction dreams into reality. A new 3-D display system developed by researchers in Canada is able to transmit a full-size, 360-degree image of a human that can be seen without any special gadgets like headsets or fast-moving mirrors. The futuristic technology could usher in a new era of ultra-realistic “telepresence,” ranging from remote participation in meetings and conferences to virtual on-stage appearances at concerts.
The projected 3-D image looks real from any angle, and to multiple viewers from different angles, said Roel Vertegaal, a professor of human-computer interaction at Queen’s University in Ontario, Canada, and lead researcher of a new study about the technology. He said that if people walk around to the side or back of the cylindrical screen, he added, they’ll see a side view or back view of the person “inside” it.
Vertegaal said that the end result of it is quite beautiful. He also added that the screen is not perfect, but the human appears to be standing in the cylinder.
Vertegaal explained that the display system, dubbed “TeleHuman 2,” uses three stereoscopic cameras to take live video of the front, back, and sides of a human subject. The stereoscopic cameras record information about the physical shape of a subject, as well as what it looks like. The information about the image and its 3-D shape, known as a “lightfield,” is then transmitted as data over a network or Internet connection to the 6-foot-high cylindrical screen, or “telepod,” where the virtual human is displayed.
Recently, scientists tried to trap tiny particles with lasers to create 3-D images that appear to float in thin air, with some limited success. Other approaches create this effect using light bouncing off a rapidly rotating mirror. The mirror spins so fast that it appears invisible, while the light reflected from its moving surface results in a 3-D shape. Some virtual reality systems can also create a 3-D presence, but viewers have to wear VR headsets to see it. The new TeleHuman 2 system uses a special reflective screen and an exterior hoop of more than 40 projectors to achieve a 3-D effect from any angle.
Vertegaal thinks the new display system will initially be used for teleconferencing. Thanks to its relatively low Internet bandwidth and computer processing requirements, a conversation between two 3-D “telehumans” would need just six times the bandwidth of a modern 2-D video call, he said.
Conference venues and corporate meeting rooms are places that could be equipped with cylindrical “telepods” for displaying a remote human presence, he added. The tech could also be used for entertainment purposes, such as at stadium music shows, where remote singers — or even dead stars, like Tupac — can make virtual appearances on stage.
Vertegaal said, “We expect this to be a practical solution, but our research is always some years ahead of the marketplace.” He also added, “That’s the whole point of research.”