Microsoft plots holographic video chats for Skype

The future is now, at least when it comes to some sci-fi dreams, including those of holographic video conferencing. We’ve seen these ideas represented artistically in Star Wars and Deus Ex and it has long held a place in novels, now it appears Microsoft hopes to put it together in the here and now.

“You’re my only hope”

The technology could in theory enable the Princess Leia’s of tomorrow’s world to leave holographic messages for others to see, reading between the lines of a recent Microsoft Research job posting.

“In the short term, we are developing the hardware and software necessary to have a realistic physical ‘body-double’ or proxy in a remote meeting — one that gives the remote worker a true seat at the table, the ability to look around the room, turn to a colleague and have a side conversation,” the advert states, confirming the company’s future plan to enable high-def communication scenarios for consumers over Skype.

The company claims itself to be developing a: “Groundbreaking new technology platform” that will “revolutionize communications and touch millions of customers around the world.”

In theory the technology already kind of exists, as evidenced by a relatively recent MIT Media Lab demonstration in which researcher, Michael Bove, hacked the camera sensor from a Kinect system and created a low-res holographic video of a student dressed as — you guessed it — Princess Leia.

The video was then transmitted in real time and projected using a specialist piece of kit built a decade ago by holographic imaging pioneer, Stephen Benton. It was shown at 30fps.

Latency, bandwidth, quality challenges

Similar experiments were announced last year by researchers at the Human Media Lab at Queen’s University, Canada. The TeleHuman system works with two people standing in front of their own cylindrical display video-conferencing pods on which are displayed holographic life-size projections of the other participant. More information on this experiment is available here. Interestingly, these researchers also used a Kinect…

Problems both research groups face include video latency; bandwidth consumption and image quality.

In truth, these experiments show we shouldn’t get too excited. The ad describes a small team and technologies like these could and probably will take years to reach their full potential, but Microsoft’s project suggests a few interesting possibilities, and there’s always the chance the well-heeled company may have resolved some of these challenges:

Communication

You might sit at a table with virtual holographic representations of chat participants when engaged in a videoconference. That’s in addition to the possibilities of speaking with holographic versions of your family, lovers and friends.

Location

Taking a look at R2D2 is it really too much to speculate that hologram-carried messages could be left at specific locations: exhibitions around a place of cultural interest; building and highway signage.

Expression/education

Such holographic representations could be included within the arsenal of children’s books or adult textbooks, electronic or otherwise. Though don’t even think of the impact on titles such as “Fifty Shades of Grey”.

Marketing

This is a no-brainer. Holographic advertising seems inevitable. Sponsor messages, sales calls, discount offers could all be made available via holograms.

Can you imagine any more implementations?

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