3D video calls a step closer

[From The Age]

3D hologram in Star Wars

[Image: “Help me Obi Wan Kenobi”: Princess Leia leaves a 3D hologram message in Star Wars.]

3D video calls a step closer

December 24, 2013
Drew Turney

“Help me Obi Wan Kenobi … you’re my only hope,” might have been the first vision of a teleconferencing technology now in development at Iowa State University in the US.

A human-computer interaction expert and a mechanical engineer have created a system to scan and record a subject in 3D, compress and transmit the video across a wired or wireless network in real time and have it displayed at the other end as a hologram-like 3D image on any screen.

The finding has implications for the future of teleconferencing, remote medicine, telework and the way we use video on mobile devices.

It’s partly the story of an amazing feat of data compression. Two cameras on each side of a light source are pointed at the subject, recording light and shadow distortions. They generate a huge amount of stereoscopic video data the team has managed to compress from 700 megabits per second (Mbps) to 14Mpbs – low enough to stream across any network to any connected device at 30 frames a second.


Where a person in a 2D image has the common (and slightly creepy) quality of staring directly at you from any angle, the new system is a much closer representation of reality, allowing people at opposite ends of a video call to interact as if they were in each other’s physical presence, says developer Nik Karpinksy.

“The redisplay is happening on the holographic display, and the users are establishing correct eye gaze,” he says, “so if they look at each other they make eye contact.”

Karpinsky and his co-researcher Dr Song Zhang said the team is next planning to include the technology in mobile device applications and beyond video communications.

“Other applications include teleoperation like telesurgery,” Karpinskiy says. “Imagine having invasive surgery performed by a surgical robot in the USA while the doctor is sitting in her office in Australia.”

So how close are we to free-standing holograms that don’t require a surface to project onto?

Although Karpinsky’s research is in the recording, compression and transmission of the signal, he says anything is possible at the receiving end.

“We’re projecting onto glass, which becomes a display based on the angle of projection,” he says. “Assuming we could find a display technology for visible light, we could use it in our system.”

3D will also bring a whole class of new services to life. US company Zugara has been working towards real-time 3D transmission and display in their augmented reality product Zugstar, whose primary market has been virtual dressing rooms for retail.

David Logstead of Compass Audiovisual worked with the Iowa State University team, and he can see the potential everywhere.

“Imagine Google Earth providing 3D images of travel destinations,” he says, adding that the world’s largest museum, the Smithsonian in Washington, will soon launch an online 3D viewer to give people a closer look at artefacts.

Karpinsky says the team looked at commercialising parts of the research, but adds that there are still “set-up and ease of use” challenges to overcome.

“But in the next five to six years,” he says, “3D capture devices will be integrated into common platforms like laptops and mobile devices, which will make commercialising this much more viable.”


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