Immersed in TV

US computer scientists have combined telecommunications and technology similar to that used in 3D movies to create Tele-immersion.

US computer scientists have combined telecommunications and technology similar to that used in 3D movies to create Tele-immersion, a video conference facility where participants sitting in different parts of the country feel as if they’re chatting in the same room.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Brown University and Advanced Network and Services accomplished the first successful demonstration of Tele-immersion.

‘While videoconferencing results in two-dimensional images on a screen, in tele-immersion the screen becomes a window allowing access to a site far away,’ said Kostas Daniilidis, an assistant professor of computer and information science at the University of Pennsylvania. ‘The person with whom you’re speaking is projected life-size in three dimensions – you can even peer behind him or her.’

Daniilidis and his NTII colleagues said Tele-immersion has the potential to revolutionise the way people communicate, allowing people on opposite ends of the country or world to feel as if they’re in each other’s presence.

Key to Tele-immersion’s realistic feel are a hemispherical bank of digital cameras to capture participants from a variety of angles and tracking gear worn on their heads.

Combined with polarised glasses much like those worn at 3D movies, the set up creates subtly different images in each eye. Working from this sensory input, the brain is able to recreate the three-dimensional ‘telepresence’ of a person actually sitting in a distant studio.

The result is that when a participant moves his or her head, the view of the others shifts almost as seamlessly as if the meeting were occurring face-to-face.

When participant’s lean forward, their peers appear larger; when they recline, their virtual friends shrink in size.

In the handful of Tele-immersion sessions achieved so far, screens were mounted at right angles to a desk in the corner of a room, each displaying one of the remote locations. The screens are solid and flat, but once a session begins they appear more like a window.

Daniilidis believes that Tele-immersion’s potential to revolutionise communications remains a driving force behind the development of Internet2, the collaborative effort to create the high-bandwidth web of the future.

While most online applications use only a tiny fraction of Internet2’s massive band-width, Tele-immersion is one of the few that requires moving far greater quantities of data than today’s Internet can handle.