Looks like the Tupac hologram (as seen at Coachella) might have some company – as soon as the 3-D holographic chat system called TeleHuman developed by the Human Media Lab of Queen’s University, Canada hits the mainstream. Dr. Roel Vertegaal and his group of researchers at the Human Media Lab have created a human-scale 3-D cylindrical display, which allows people in different locations to video conference as if they are standing in front of each other. The TeleHuman is probably the closest thing to teleportation we have ever seen and in this interview below, Vertegaal explains it all …
“Why Skype when you can talk to a life-size 3-D holographic image of another person?” says Professor Roel Vertegaal, director of the Human Media Lab.
How did the TeleHuman come about? I did my PhD on videoconferencing and realized that rather than asking what should be conveying, non verbals like eye contact, proximity, scale etc. we should simply try to convey everything. That means essentially holographic projection, and then we worked on it about 10 years ago but it was too difficult to do then so when the Kinect came out it became very doable. We started working on it a year ago and completed the project about eight months ago.
It looks like something that could have come out of Star Trek or Star Wars film. Are you a science fiction fan? No I’m not really inspired by science fiction movies at all. All of the ideas we do in the lab are original in that way. In fact, my students had to urge me to watch Minority Report, as we already had developed eye trackers featured in it… back then… called eye contact sensors. Check out eyebox2 on Google.
Which industries do you think the TeleHuman could be useful in? Telemedicine, medical training, dance/music instruction, physiotherapy, but also just in the home and in business to give the best presentation or be the closest to someone you could get.
Kinect is a hot commodity right now. Why do you think it’s such a popular technology? It has allowed multimodal interfaces to become easy, both in terms of market penetration but also in terms of hacking new interfaces. But we have been working on these technologies for over a decade. Both on the eye tracking front, which are essentially very similar cameras to Kinect, but also using Vicons, which are the high end predecessor to Kinect. Check out PaperWindows from 2004 on YouTube, a project we did using the Vicon, which was developed for motion capture. It is projects like these that ultimately lead to someone bringing these technologies into the market and into the home. So we have been a driving force behind that, and now we eagerly make use of that technology to be able to implement things we couldn’t do ourselves before because they were too difficult. Like stitching a 3D video model of a human on the fly for broadcast over a network… we tried that in 2005 and failed back then.
How would you describe the Human Media Lab? The Human Media Lab is a place where we develop disruptive new user interface technologies that are 10-20 years ahead of their time. We do both development of new prototypes and empirical science of new user interfaces.
What are some of the projects that you’re working on right now? We are working on the next gen display technologies, and developing user interfaces for that. These displays will not be flat: they will be in the shape of the data. In some cases they will be morphing so that you can have the 3-D data in your hand, much like the X-Men table. But in most cases they will simply be covered by flexible display skins, sub-millimeter thick bendable screens that are much like digital wallpaper. One particular project we are working on is the paper computer, of which PaperPhone was an early example. These computers are uber-portable because they are flexible and thin film and just like paper.
What is another device or technique you find essential to your work? Flexible displays like FOLEDs and Flexible E-Ink. We are the only public laboratory in the world to have them, and they allow us to create all sorts of interesting new devices.
What/who is on your radar right now? I cannot comment as we usually keep a press embargo until the technologies are presented at a conference. But think X-Men. Robotic display technologies are on the horizon, and they will provide Real Reality 3-D interfaces you can touch. Haptics is going to be huge soon.
What is something you geek out over? Well it’s funny you know I usually don’t really geek out over too many things… I enjoy the moment of the idea and I enjoy the moment of seeing it realized for the first time. I was really jazzed seeing the first FOLED back when I did. Recently, I enjoyed buying that model rocket with real gunpowder at Fry’s in Palo Alto. I so look forward to shooting that thing up in the sky 200m with my kid! And yes, I do want to do a ride on SpaceShip2.
Familiarize yourself further with Roel Vertegaal and the Human Media Lab. Also, TeleHuman has been featured on Mashable and Wired, so check out the features there for additional information. Special thanks to Ilan Mester for interviewing Roel Vertegaal for Thrash Lab.