Holograms Could Give Virtual Meetings New Life

[singlepic id=825 w=320 h=240 float=right]Developers work on live 3-D images

First came webinars and videoconferencing, and now, coming “live” to meetings and conventions: holograms. Nitto Denko Technical — have begun developing a technology to project live images that are streamed through the Internet for 3-D viewing without the need for 3-D glasses.   interactive display, ranging from medicine to education, as well as keynote convention speakers, concert-givers and even online dating services. Several companies, including Cadillac and GE, contacted Musion, wondering if the technology could be applied in corporate settings, says Ian O’Connell of Musion, in California. Cisco says it’s studying the technology but is “not at the stage of having a (commercial) product in a meaningful volume,” says spokesman Marc Musgrove.   “Human interaction is critical.”

Developers of holographic display are working on a technology that will let speakers and performers deliver speeches and entertain an audience without being there. They’ll do it via hologram video projection, in which a filmed performance is presented in a live, 3-D image — like Princess Leia’s message to Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars.

In January, the music group Black Eyed Peas performed holographically at an awards show in France. Two small airports in Britain — Manchester and London Luton — have holographic images of staffers explaining security clearance rules. Others to appear via hologram technology in recent years: Former vice president Al Gore, Microsoft founder Bill Gates and British airline and media mogul Richard Branson.

The technology is the latest step in the “telepresence” evolution that’s changing the meetings and conventions industry.

Evolving technology

Presenting holographic images of static objects isn’t new. But several companies — including Britain-based Musion, Austin-based Zebra Imaging, Hungary-based Holografika and a collaborative venture between researchers from the University of Arizona and California-based

The technology is in its infancy and has limitations, including high cost and elaborate setup. Musion says a simple setup can cost $20,000 to $30,000, which is more than a first-class round-trip airline ticket for a live appearance.

But its potential has intrigued industries that could benefit from high-end,

“It’s the holy grail of display technology,” says Corbin Hall, a meetings technology analyst. “But for now, it’s going to be just for real high-end (events). It’s definitely not mainstream.”

In 2006, Musion helped Madonna produce a performance at the Grammy Awards, in which she sang with holographic cartoon images. After the program

Its work also caught the attention of Cisco Systems, which has been looking to expand its videoconferencing business. Musion was in talks with Cisco on the technology and helped develop an event in Bangalore, where Cisco CEO John Chambers spoke to holographic images on stage of executives who were

Holograms vs. ‘Pepper’s Ghost’

Retailer Target used Musion’s system for a “model-less” fashion show, with headless model images walking the runway. It was “a buzz marketing strategy,” says Target spokesman Joshua Thomas.

Hologram purists are skeptical, however, and argue that Musion’s product is simply a derivative of the decades-old “Pepper’s Ghost” illusionary technique that Disney uses in its Haunted Mansion ride at its theme parks. With Pepper’s Ghost, streamed images are projected onto a wall of foil or glass for viewing, and a person seeing it up close would merely see a flat panel.

“Pepper’s Ghost works great if you’re looking at a stage and sitting 100 yards back,” says Michael Klug of Zebra Imaging, which creates holograms for the Defense Department and other customers. “But 3-D is important if you’re sitting across the desk from someone.

A true hologram is a realistic reconstruction of a 3-D image that mimics the real world, he says. “If you move around and they don’t move or they give you a headache and cause discomfort in any way, they’re not holographic,” Klug says.

Musion’s O’Connell acknowledges his technology derives from Pepper’s Ghost but says Musion has enhanced the technique by incorporating high-definition video and high-speed digital streaming. “If people were to see it,” he says, “they’d say it looks like a hologram.”

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