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  • Annika Santhanam

Holograms: The Future of Video Conferencing in the Era of 2020

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When you think of holograms, what comes to mind? Maybe you think of Princess Leia’s holographic message in A New Hope, the holodeck in Star Trek, the holographic images in Iron Man’s suit, or the holographic displays in Black Panther (rest in peace Chadwick Boseman, who portrayed T’Challa, the king of Wakanda, in the movie).

Holograms, once thought to be only science fiction, are now becoming a reality, fueling the technology behind the future of video conferencing in the current COVID-19 pandemic.

As September of 2020 approaches, schools and business that have shutdown to avoid in-person interactions due to the pandemic are scrambling to adapt to the new norm of online learning or working remotely. Schools are seeking ways to provide education for students at home while businesses are reverting to work from home options and are seeking ways to continue their day-to-day operations, fulfill customer needs, and sustain the economy.

Schools and businesses are turning to virtual learning environments to replace in-person instruction and continue collaboration for students and coworkers. Everyday life has been impacted for families and friends stuck at home without face-to-face social interactions and has led to families hosting events and continuing everyday activities through virtual platforms.

This new way of life has opened the doors to video conferencing, which requires a computer, internet connection, and a conferencing software to conduct virtual interactions. There have been many great tools and software created to meet the requirements for online meetings, with popular ones being Zoom, Cisco Webex, and Google Meet. While these are currently some of the best options for interactions, poor audio and video quality on top of not being able to collaborate together in the same room have been hurdles in the way of getting used to the deprivation of face-to-face interactions. Needless to say, talking to each other through a flat screen isn’t the same as being in-person.

As companies are racing to adapt to the changing landscape of the country, technology is paving a way for the future of video conferencing in the form of holograms.

Why Holograms?

It may seem trivial, but a big part of talking face-to-face with someone is their nonverbal communication cues. Whether it be eye contact, hand movements, posture, or slight facial expressions, these gestures help enforce what is being conveyed and also get messages across effectively. With current video conferencing, while you are able to see each other visually, the virtual environment constrains the user’s physical movement and hinders nonverbal cues, often making conference calls awkward or making communication harder to decipher in terms of tone and purpose. With holographic environments and representations of people, nonverbal cues can be picked up better by the users, and ideas and thoughts can be shared a lot easier than online.

The Hologram Revolution

Spatial AR App

One big and upcoming example of holographic communication is the Spatial AR app. This app utilizes augmented reality (AR) in order to allow users to see holographic representations of their coworkers, their ideas, 3D models, and more. Anand Agarawala, who created and sold the 3-D desktop interface app BumpTop to Google and worked on the Google Glass, and Jinha Lee, who worked at Samsung and studied at the MIT Media Lab, created this app, which works alongside the Microsoft HoloLens to bring these capabilities to life.

Users who don the Microsoft HoloLens using the Spatial AR app are able to attend a virtual conference with life-like avatars of their coworkers, making it feel as if the event is happening in real-life and real time. Along with interacting with the virtual representations of collaborators, users are also able to drag in content from Google Suites applications, use web browser and smartphone into the virtual environment to share notes and projects with others. Users can even pin sticky notes to share ideas and literally have user thoughts fill the room. This is a great tool to make it seem as if a person is really in an office or classroom, and it’s a fantastic way to collaborate and share any ideas and projects one might have. This will come in use for businesses and schools.

As for what’s next, the creators of the app are hoping to make the virtual avatars more realistic to build on the in-person, face-to-face feeling. As time goes on and the technology is developed further, we’ll definitely be seeing many different companies and fields utilizing this AR environment.

TeleHuman 2 System

While the Spatial app utilizes AR to bring the holographic experience to users, another piece of technology is hoping to bring holographic images of people to real-life environments.

In Canada, researchers at Queen’s University just revealed the new TeleHuman 2 system. This system is boasted to be the first system that actually projects people and objects as full-on holograms, no augmented reality or virtual reality glasses required. To project the image, multiple depth cameras are used to capture what the 3D object looks like, and on the other end, several projectors transmit the image captured from all angles. The result? A holographic representation of the object worthy of the Star Wars franchise. This allows people to talk with each other from miles apart with the feeling as if they are in the room with you. Rather than talking through a flat screen, you can feel as if you’re talking to them in person. This will make video conferences and classes much more enjoyable for students and coworkers who want to collaborate with others as they would in-person.

Of course, the system still has a long way to go to be perfectly functional. The image does glitch quite a bit, but the viewer is still able to communicate easily with the person being projected. As the technology is worked on, this piece of science fiction might become part of our every-day reality.

Of these technologies, the Microsoft HoloLens, is currently on the market for $3,500, and the Spatial app is completely free for users with all capabilities, from meeting length limit to the limit on the number of rooms a user can save, set to unlimited due to the current COVID-19 pandemic. Currently, there is no news or pricing on the TeleHuman 2 system, but we can be sure to see developments in the system as time goes on.

So there you have it! Holographic communication is now a trend of reality rather than science fiction, and soon enough, we may have holograms of our own. Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more articles!


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