Google is seriously thinking about a giant video chat booth and starting real tests.

Project Starline booth with zoom / 3D display and tons of cameras. Google Google actually seems serious about the “Project Starline” video booth idea. This mysterious project was announced as part of the Google I/O 2021 keynote, but was initially overshadowed by more obvious Wear OS and Android announcements. Now, a year later, Google continues to push the idea forward by announcing extended enterprise tests with third parties. Google also says it’s working to make Starline “more accessible”. Project Starline basically asks the question, “What if Zoom is a giant sitting arcade machine?” The home console version of video chat includes a small camera above the laptop screen, but Starline brings 3D video chat to life in a booth measuring 7×7 feet without consideration for cost, size, or commercialization. The goal is to make it look like someone else is in a room with you, which Google classifies as a “research project.” As for what Starline really is, the Google Research article contains a lot of detail. On the display side of the video booth are 14 cameras and 16 IR projectors, all of which create, capture and track realistic real-time 3D avatars of users. Four microphones and two speakers don’t just reproduce voice. Spatialized audio and dynamic beamforming make it sound like it’s coming out of your avatar’s mouth. That’s a lot of sensors. An annotated version of all Google features. It’s a really big version of Face ID. Google Here are some 3D avatars and meatspace avatars that are created. Sending your 3D avatar through the Google video chat connection allows Google to fix the eyeliner that is consistently problematic in normal video chat. Although eye contact while looking at the display is impossible due to the webcam on top of the display, the 3D avatar can break the link between the center of the camera and the center of the display, allowing mutual eye contact. Google is processing all this data on a powerful dual Xeon workstation with “4 NVIDIA GPUs (2 Quadro RTX 6000 and 2 Titan RTX)”. The display is a 65-inch, 8K, 60Hz autostereoscopic lenticular panel that creates a glasses-free 3D view of a life-size avatar. It’s basically a big Nintendo 3DS, but it has a bigger sweet spot thanks to head tracking. On the other side of the booth is an infrared backlight and a rather stiff looking bench, which limits the user to the 3D sweet spot of the display and limits the reach of the entire avatar creation system. Google even created a small barrier between the bench and the display to hide the bottom of the display. Instead of the avatar ending up awkwardly when it hits the bottom of the screen, the physical occlusion of the bottom of the display is supposed to trick the brain into thinking that the rest of the avatar is behind a barrier. Google is committed to controlling every possible variable with Project Starline, from booths with self-illumination systems with both diffuse visible lighting to help capture 3D textures and large infrared backlights to aid in 3D imaging. Tried Starline seems to like it, but only a few considering that you’ll have to be personally invited by Google to try it. It’s hard to imagine a market for a small bathroom-sized 6-seater video booth, but Google is testing more. A Google statement states, “Today, Project Starline prototypes are found in Google offices across the United States, and employees use this technology every day for meetings, employee onboarding, and building relationships with colleagues.” Unlike the highly polished teaser video, this Siggraph presentation explains the progress much better. The company went on to add: “In addition to Google employees, we have invited more than 100 corporate partners from sectors such as media, healthcare, and retail to participate in demonstrations in our offices and provide feedback on our business experiences and applications. Project Starline helps businesses across multiple industries. With so many ways to add value, we continue to focus on making it more accessible.” Salesforce, WeWork, T-Mobile, and Hackensack Meridian Health have signed up to try it. WeWork, a company that rents out too expensive office space, seems to be particularly excited about the idea. Google can say anything it wants to “research”, but it’s notorious for being aggressive when it comes to killing hundreds of millions of users that aren’t there. Do you have any products here? Starline is adjacent to the huge corporate conference equipment market, but some limitations make Starline unsuitable for serious meetings. Enterprise conferencing equipment is ideal for large groups that typically sit at tables, and its wide compatibility allows anyone to join a meeting using virtually any hardware. Starline can only chat 1:1 and can only talk with other Starline booths. Is there a market for VIP-to-VIP communication booths like the modern version of the President’s red telephone?
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