Queen's University unveils video chat hologram

Queen's University has unveiled a hologram system for video-chatting, which allows people in different locations to appear before one another in life-size, 3D forms.

New Star Trek-like system offers a 3D alternative to Facetime, Skype

A Queen's University researcher unveiled a holographic videoconferencing system on April 25, 2018. (Roel Vertegaal)

Queen's University has unveiled a hologram system for video-chatting, which allows people in different locations to appear before one another in life-size, 3D forms.

The public saw the Star Trek-like holographic videoconferencing system for the first time in action at an international conference in Montreal Wednesday.

"Skype calls are two-dimensional and you can't really make eye contact, you can't really see where people are looking," said Queen's University professor Roel Vertegaal on CBC Radio's Ontario Morning, who introduced the revolutionary project called TeleHuman 2.

A headset or 3D glasses are not needed to see Queen's University's new hologram system because the display projects a light field with many images, one for every degree of angle. (Queen's University )

"If you want to convey non-verbal communications ... you need to convey everything ... because otherwise you don't get the feeling that there is a person there."

3D glasses not needed

The program uses a ring of "intelligent" projectors mounted above and around a retro-reflective, human-sized cylindrical pod, Vertegaal said. 

He added that a headset or 3D glasses are not needed to see the hologram because the display projects a light field.

3-D hologram-type calls. the kind we've seen in movies, may not be as far away as you think. 6:20

Many times what many people describe as a "hologram" is not truly one, Vertegaal said. 

Even the most well-known hologram in recent times of Tupac Shakur at a Coachella Performance in 2012, he added, was only a two-dimensional video projected on glass. 

'Empathy to a conversation'

The hologram in the new video system displays a human projection that can be walked around and viewed from all sides simultaneously by multiple users. 

A close-up of Queen's University's new hologram video chatting system, which was unveiled on April 25, 2018. (Queen's University )

"Face-to-face interaction transfers an immense amount of non-verbal information," said Vertegaal, a professor of human-computer interaction. "Users miss the ... gestures, facial expressions, and eye contact that bring nuance, emotional connotation and ultimately empathy to a conversation."

The system can be used for professional use, entertainment and personal communication, he said, adding that the new technology could be used to cut business travel and allow music performers to appear simultaneously across a venue.

"There really is no end with what you can do with this kind of system," he said. 

A projector ring of the hologram videoconferencing system. (Queen's University)

CBC Radio's Ontario Morning