Google is working on a next-gen video chat booth that makes the person youâ€™re chatting with appear in front of you in 3D. You can see them from different angles by moving around and even make eye contact, Google said during a preview of the project at its I/O conference today.
The system is called â€śProject Starline,â€ť and itâ€™s basically a really, really fancy video chat setup. The platform uses multiple cameras and sensors to capture a personâ€™s appearance and shape from different perspectives. It then stitches those together into a 3D model thatâ€™s broadcast in real time to whomever theyâ€™re chatting with. In Googleâ€™s preview, Starline was used for person-to-person calls (not group chats), and both sides seemed to be using specialized tech so it could all work.
In a demo video, people using the tech describe seeing people like they were in the same room together. Itâ€™s â€śas if she was right in front of me,â€ť one person says.
Right now the system is big. It appears to be an entire booth, complete with lights, cameras, and a bench to sit on. Google says it relies on â€ścustom-built hardware and highly specialized equipment.â€ť Wired reports that the booth contains more than a dozen different depth sensors and a 65-inch â€ślight field displayâ€ť to make people appear in 3D. Light field tech has popped up in some promising applications over the past decade (Lytro and Avegant both used it), but itâ€™s yet to catch on as a way to present people clearly in 3D.
The video chat booth is currently only available in â€śa fewâ€ť of Googleâ€™s offices, and it plans on testing the tech with business partners later in the year. Google mentioned health care and media as two industries from which it was seeking feedback.
After a year of constant reliance on video chatting â€” and as companies plan futures where they rely on video chats more than ever â€” the promise of more realistic remote calls is exciting. Google makes it sound like Project Starline is a ways away from being something found in every office, let alone in your home. But it means the company is at least working toward something thatâ€™s significantly better than the blurry calls weâ€™re used to.