In April 2000, the governor of Texas, Rick Perry, spoke at a business meeting in Dallas. He conversed with the person who introduced him, gave a short speech, and then took questions from the audience. A man in the back of the room abruptly stood up and began waving his arms. “We can see him perfectly,” the man shouted. “But what can he see?” The governor interrupted him to say, “I see you waving your arms in the back of the room.”
The reason for this unusual exchange was that the governor was making his presentation from Austin, Texas, using a technology called teleportation developed by Manchester, England- and Dallas-based Teleportec Ltd. (www.teleportec.com).
According to Teleportec Chairman Jim Young, teleportation is the “next evolution of videoconferencing.” A teleportation unit sends the image and audio of aover three ISDN lines to another teleportation unit. (It also works using satellite transmission and the new Internet 2 technology being developed by an academic/government consortium.) The image, contrary to some early reports on the technology, is not a hologram. It is an image projected onto semi-reflective glass. Although it is two-dimensional, it creates a powerful illusion of three dimensions; so powerful that when it was used to transmit the image of a physician based in Dallas to a meeting of 450 people in Birmingham, England, the doctor received a standing ovation. “To my knowledge, it was the first standing ovation for a speaker who wasn't actually there,” says Young.
At present, teleporter units come in three sizes: A lectern-sized device that projects the upper half of the speaker's body; a 20-by-11-foot unit that projects as many as five speakers from head to toe; and a theater-sized unit for large-scale stage shows. Teleportation devices are installed in Austin and Dallas as well as London and Manchester, England. By the end of 2001, Young expects installations to be completed in Brussels; Toronto; Hong Kong; Sydney, Australia; New York City; Washington, D.C.; Chicago; San Francisco; and San Jose, Calif.
Connectivity requirements are modest: Teleportation works using 384k bandwidth, the same as regular videoconferencing. It also works using only 256k of bandwidth, although the image suffers some pixilation. At 768k, the effect is said to be uncanny in its realism.
Young, a 34-year veteran of the technology business (he was employee number 40 at Dallas-based EDS), is careful not to over-hype what Teleportec can do. “You can't touch; you can't shake hands; and you can't go out for a pint afterwards,” he says. “But when there's a benefit to being face-to-face but great difficulty in [being physically present], this is a very useful tool.”