By Jonah Ruddock
As it’s been impossible to engage in good old fashioned conversation for the past year, platforms like Zoom and Skype have stepped up to fill the gap. Google, however, seems to have something bigger in mind. The company’s latest mischief feels like it comes straight from the pages of a Neal Stephenson novel: a way of communicating through hyper-realistic 3D projections. By using an array of shiny new software and hardware, they’ve created what is essentially a hologram.
This new product, which they call Project Starline, can capture images, send information between devices using a new method of real-time compression, and display them in 3D using a light field display that gives the image a quality of real depth and texture. The goal is for users to forget that they aren’t actually face to face as they sit in booths with the 170 centimeter screen in front of them. No special headsets or goggles are necessary.
“Imagine, instead of looking at a screen, you’re looking at a magic plane of glass, and through that glass you’re seeing another person on the other side,” engineer Steve Seitz explained. The company’s goal is to “make this technology more affordable and accessible,” as it currently requires custom-built equipment to work. If they succeed in this, it may fundamentally change the way we communicate with each other. They plan to bring Project Starline to partners in the healthcare and media industries in the coming year. (Hopefully it will go better than David Foster Wallace imagined in Infinite Jest, when this kind of technology led to widespread agoraphobia and the temporary collapse of society. Fingers crossed.)
In today’s increasingly globalized world, more and more often we find ourselves needing to communicate with those that don’t live near us. And in the past year, we were cut off from even our teachers and friends, learning the hard way that Zoom isn’t as good of a substitute to communication in the flesh as some would have hoped. If Project Starline can replicate the feeling of really being in the same room with a person, it could, for better or for worse, forever alter the way our society functions.