Thursday, March 15, 2012

Now You See Them, Now You Don't

I have been impressed by telepresence demonstrations a couple of times in the last few years. It happened again at a conference I attended today.

Telepresence is very advanced video conferencing technology that creates the illusion multiple people in multiple locations are actually in the same space. The more conventional systems are usually room size. For example, one system has a large conference table with a curved wall on one side and chairs on the other. The remote participants, seated in a similar room elsewhere, are projected in life size on the wall. There is an illusion that you are sitting around the same physical table. Extremely high bandwidth is needed to support the video and audio, but the interaction during a meeting is very natural. After a while, you forget these people are not really on the other side of the table.

Then there are more advanced systems which use holographic projections to create a three dimensional image of the remote participants. A few years ago at a Forrester conference, John Chambers, Chairman & CEO of CISCO, was a featured speaker. Members of the CIO Group had an opportunity to see him during a small, private session apart from the main conference hall.

After he was introduced he stepped up on a small raised platform to speak with us about the latest developments at CISCO including, of course, their videoconferencing and telepresence systems. At one point he turned to the dark back of the stage and invited one of the product people to join him on stage to explain how telepresence works. Another person walked out from the back of the stage and began addressing the group. With John.standing next to him, they were able to interact easily and naturally with each other and the audience.

But this other person was actually in San Jose, clear across the country. What we saw was a holographic projection, so lifelike you thought he was actually there.

This evening, at the March monthly SIM Chapter meeting, a CISCO executive and very good friend, Norm Jacnis, presented a collection of current trends to help us prepare for the major changes occurring in the world. The future holds a lot of new and exciting developments, among them increased telecommuting and use of telepresence. He brought plenty of slides and some video. One in particular was very impressive. I found it on YouTube (where else) and included it below.

Check it out and pay particular attention to the end. Two of the four stars were not physically on the stage. They are holograms. Can you tell who was really there and who was being beamed in?

Captain Joe

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