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OAKLAND – Google’s Project Starline 3D video conferencing system, unveiled last week, is well-chosen for a post-pandemic world, but there is still a long way to go to seamlessly marry the in-person and the virtual, say three people who have used the system.
Google and its Alphabet rivals, including Microsoft Corp, Apple Inc, and Facebook Inc, all see “mixed reality,” as it is sometimes referred to, as the next big new wave of computing – after smartphones – and all are on the way. to draw new ground.
Starline uses expensive state-of-the-art cameras, sensors and displays to generate an illusion of depth, allowing users seated in special booths in different locations to see themselves “full-size and three-dimensional,” as Google puts it. “You can speak naturally, make gestures, and make eye contact.”
Google chief executive Sundar Pichai touted Starline at the company’s annual developer conference last week, saying the technology has been in development for years and has depth sensors, displays and algorithms. revolutionary multimedia.
But Starline is still in its early stages: Google said it was planning trials with media and healthcare companies, but had not identified them, announced pricing, or indicated when the system would typically be. available.
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Citing an internal presentation from last year, a source said each Starline unit costs tens of thousands of dollars, according to expert estimates.
Three sources said the meetings they had with Starline looked a lot like face-to-face meetings – as long as the system was working properly.
“The texture, the clothes… it was perfect,” said one of them. But two sources reported pixelated images as their counterpart moved around.
Google declined to comment.
LEAPS IN TECHNOLOGY
However, not everyone bets on 3D. Alagu Periyannan, co-founder and vice president of BlueJeans, owned by Verizon Communications Inc, said users need easier ways to have “ad hoc conversations that foster creativity, not orchestrated interactions that require specialized equipment in custom-built offices. “
Yet academic researchers and conferencing tech giants like Cisco Systems Inc have long tried to make online discussions more immersive. Recent leaps in depth-sensing cameras and image processing technology have now made it possible, and startups such as Looking Glass Factory and Wooptix are developing key components at lower costs than ever before.
“The quality bar is no longer the argument for why the technology doesn’t exist,” said Avi Bar-Zeev, who advises companies on mixed reality technologies.
In March, Microsoft released Mesh, a software kit for businesses to develop immersive apps that run on different types of devices, including the company’s HoloLens headsets. Mesh could be used to configure 3D displays for workplace collaboration on designs or virtual documents.
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Sales of conferencing tools have increased at Zoom Video Communications Inc, Cisco, and Microsoft over the past year due to remote working, and demand is expected to remain strong as businesses embrace hybrid desktops to long term.
Google employees leading the Starline effort previously worked on the company’s virtual reality headsets like Cardboard and Daydream, which have been scrapped in recent months after struggling to find an audience.
As currently presented, Starline could prove useful in the field of health. Gregorij Kurillo, a research engineer at the University of California, San Francisco, said Starline could allow a patient in a doctor’s office to speak with a specialist far away without having to travel.
But it’s unclear whether Starline is still robust enough for, say, a virtual fitness class, or to shine in more than two people.
The capricious nature of technology has resulted in unexpected problems. Starline at one point missed a demonstration for executives because it was set for people of average height and many of them were taller, according to a source briefed last year on the incident.
The team behind Starline, called Stargate at the time, said they would adjust the design to meet the needs of tall people, as executives had to be the starting customer market for the booths, according to the source, and some research shows that business leaders tend to be taller than average.
It was not known whether such changes had been made.
(Reporting by Paresh Dave; Editing by Jonathan Weber and Dan Grebler)