Forget robots, 3-D video conferencing technology could be the next big thing

Tuesday, September 3 2013
Forget robots, 3-D video conferencing technology could be the next big thing


Recently, robots became the focal point for the future of video conferencing technology. Many professionals want to expedite this process and have their companies buy androids as soon as it's financially feasible because controlling a fully functional machine would make working from home truly amazing. 

However, the robotic age might be delayed or stopped entirely by another leap forward for video conferencing. Specifically, 3-D technology might be the wave of the future as it can be built with readily available components. For instance, Roel Vertegaal, director of the Human Media Lab at Queen's University in Ontario, Canada, recently assembled a machine from "an array of Microsoft Kinect sensors, a 3-D projector, a 1.8 meter-tall translucent acrylic cylinder and a convex mirror," according to a 2012 report from the school. 

The finished device was capable of creating lifelike holograms that others can walk around and interact with as if they remote participant was in the same room. Users appear as holograms by standing in front of the pods and their images are broadcast to their colleagues. Vertegaal doesn't understand why people would use basic online video software if 3-D technology is an option. 

"Why Skype when you can talk to a life-size 3-D holographic image of another person?" Vertegaal asked. 

Skype apparently took that comment to heart. The BBC reports that Microsoft, which owns the web communications company, is hard at work on 3-D technology for video calls. Mark Gillett, corporate vice-president of Skype, explained that the development team has been making progress, but the technology isn't quite there yet. 

"We've seen a lot of progress in screens and a lot of people now buy TVs and computer monitors that are capable of delivering a 3-D image. But the capture devices are not yet there. As we work with that kind of technology you have to add multiple cameras to your computer, precisely calibrate them and point them at the right angle," Gillett said. 

What'll stop 3-D and holograms
The issues that Gillett's team is having are the exact obstacles that'll likely stop holograms and 3-D video conferencing solutions from becoming prevalent. Few companies are going to invest in additional hardware and make the necessary adjustments just so remote workers and clients can pop out of the screen instead of remaining flat. 

Additionally, Vertegaal was able to build a hologram machine out of consumer electronics, but many enterprises aren't going to see any value in constructing such a complicated device. If anything, most companies would likely see the technology as a waste of resources between the initial investment, maintenance costs and the work hours that employees spend adjusting the hardware.

Why it may still catch on
That said, 3-D images and holograms might become regular staples in every office. After all, it was only a few years ago that many businesses thought that video conferencing software was wholly unnecessary because they could always just call remote employees and buyers. 

What's more, if clients start demanding 3-D technology, many business will likely be more than happy to comply. Companies want to keep their patrons happy to boost retention, and if holograms will help achieve that objective then many enterprises will consider going that route. 

Cutting-edge technology can improve communication and streamline collaboration to ensure that a company can run like a well-oiled machine. While it's unknown if 3-D conferences or robots will be the next big thing, it's clear that video conferencing is advancing at a rapid pace. Besides, there's always the chance that those very robots will be able to project holograms and combine the best of both worlds.