Think of the classic scene from Star Wars in which the robot R2-D2 projects the shimmering holographic image of Princess Leia onto the floor of Luke Skywalker's garage. It is as if she is in the room with him, though only 6 inches tall.

Now imagine you are Luke Skywalker — and Princess Leia is projected life-size, full color, and high-resolution. She sits across the table, interacting with you eye-to-eye. More movie magic? Nope. This is the future of videoconferencing.

Teleportec, Manchester, U.K., (www.teleportec.com), has found a way to project a human image behind a desk, a lectern, or even on a stage, making the person appear to be sitting or standing there in real life.

The remote presenter has eye contact with the local audience and can interact with and respond to them as if he or she were on the platform. Using ISDN or T1 lines and, ultimately, the next generation of the Internet, called Internet2, this could revolutionize one-to-one videoconferences, and it has enormous potential for presenters and educators as well.

With this new technology, high-level keynote speakers can be “beamed” to audiences at a fraction of the cost and time associated with flying the speaker there directly. Small group or one-to-one videoconferences can become much more lifelike as well.

Tele-Immersion

The future promises even more astounding possibilities. Researchers at Advanced Network and Services (www.advanced.org), Armonk, N.Y., working in conjunction with a number of universities, are developing revolutionary technology called the National Tele-Immersion Initiative, or NTII.

Tele-immersion, the long-distance transmission of life-size, 3-D, synthesized scenes and images, creates the illusion that a person is in the same physical space as others, even though the other participants may be hundreds — or thousands — of miles away. Eventually, it could lead to a Star Trek “holodeck”-like telepresence in remote locales.

According to Jaron Lanier, who is known as the father of virtual reality, the sensation and usefulness of tele-immersion are quite different from videoconferencing. “When you render people properly, they feel real. Your sense of their presence, your ability to make eye contact, your ability to convey your mood and respond to theirs is quite solid because they're life-size, 3-D stereoscopic graphics, not small, flat video images.”

Tele-immersion participants sitting across a desk from each other can work together on virtual objects, for example, placing virtual 3-D model office furniture in a miniature office. An example of this can be seen at www.cs.brown.edu/research/graphics/research/telei.

Holographic 3-D Workstations

On a smaller scale, Dimensional Media, based in New York City, is working on 3-D, full-color, interactive product imaging.

For example, a medical student can use this device to see a simulated, full-size, beating heart, in 3-dimensional color. The student can then use virtual scalpels to perform heart surgery, which will have the same look and tactile feel as if the student were performing the operation. Video clips of this technology can be found at Dimensional Media's Web site (www.3dmedia.com). The company is also working on a range of product display modules that have applications in trade shows.

As computer processing power and Internet bandwidth grow, these emerging technologies will have significant impact on how we communicate and meet. We are social animals and desire face-to-face communication. These technologies are moving the ability to interact face-to-face into the virtual realm and will likely revolutionize videoconferencing as we know it.


Corbin Ball, CMP, is a speaker, consultant, and writer focusing on events and meetings technology. With 20 years' experience running international citywide technology meetings, he now helps clients worldwide use technology to save time and improve productivity. He can be contacted at his Web site: www.corbinball.com.