Last April, the boss of the Swiss luxury watch brand IWC, Christoph Grainger-Herr, was unable to fly to a global trade show in China due to Covid-19 restrictions. That's when he decided to "teleport" Star Trek style. No video call, though.
Mr. Grainger-Herr decided to join the show as a life-size 3D hologram. In the splendor of 4K he spoke, saw and listened: above all, he interacted with the people who were physically participating in the event.
“We teleported him from his office in Schaffhausen, Switzerland, to the event in Shanghai,” says David Nussbaum, the head of PORT, the company specializing in holograms (I told you about it here). “He arrived, he chatted with everyone, he even presented a new watch, all in real time. And then he teleported home!”.
Goodbye video call (and more), welcome holograms
With the coronavirus pandemic putting an end to much global travel since March 2020, there is growing interest in the use of holographic technology as a more realistic, more engaging and more sensory alternative to video calling.
Portl, based in Los Angeles, is one of the companies at the forefront of technology. Its devices are 2,5 meters (eight feet) tall: essentially glass-fronted computerized boxes. A life-size hologram of a person appears inside the cabins. PORTL has built-in speakers, so the hologram's “voice” can be heard. They also include cameras and microphones so that the hologram user can see and hear people in front of their projection.
How to make this holographic “video call”? All you need is a camera, a simple background, a microphone, a speaker. Or another PORTL, of course. The software system controlled by the proprietary app then connects the person via the Internet wherever other people or other PORTLs are, and you can also connect in a group.
There is almost no latency. If it weren't for the glass pane in front of the hologram, you would think the person was actually standing there. Without the reflection it actually looks like the person is there.David Nussbaum
For now it's a lot of business but...
... that's not all: such technology can replace kiosks with digital displays even in shopping centers or hotel rooms. It could become a presentation mode for both live and recorded content.
Sure, the system Portal it's still inaccessible, in my opinion. Each "locker" for holographic video calls costs around 55.000 euros (60.000 dollars): they cost a fortune, and even with a rental formula they are not for everyone.
In a few years, however, this could become a normal mode of communication between offices. The developers say they are certain that this can happen within 5 years. Maybe create the "with great fanfare" version of the normal video call. To be clear: either I'll call you, or we'll see each other in person (i.e. in a hologram).