Microsoft is taking the first steps toward making hologram communication a reality.Ever since Star Wars was first released, the idea of hologram communication has been cemented into the minds of many as the communication method of the future. It appears that the future might not be so far off anymore: Microsoft is taking the first steps toward making hologram communication a reality. While it isn’t exactly the holograms we know from Star Wars, Microsoft’s Room2Room project lets you sit in the same room as the person you’re virtually communicating with.
Let’s take a look at Room2Room and see if it really is the next step in communication technology.
What is Room2Room?
Room2Room uses augmented reality, or computer-altered sensory input in the real world. The technology gives the appearance that the person you are calling is actually sitting in the room with you.
To accomplish this effect, Microsoft set up rooms with Kinect cameras and projectors. For those unfamiliar with Kinect, it is a sensor-filled camera installed in Microsoft’s gaming console, Xbox One. On the Xbox One, the Kinect camera can project you into games and let you use motion to control the console.
Not surprisingly, Room2Room is building off of another Microsoft project called Room Alive. Room Alive uses a similar room set up as Room2Room, but its purpose is to make you feel like you’re in a video game by having the video game projected on the walls of the room. While Room Alive is currently available for game developers, Room2Room is still in early testing and not yet available for developers or the public.
Will Room2Room be Better than Skype?
Researchers are currently hard at work devising research tests for Room2Room to determine if the communication method is even better than Skype.
Room2Room trials are designed to gage how functional Room2Room is, compared to actual in-person meetings and video chatting. The tests involve solving puzzles with a partner using each communication method, and then comparing the ease of the activity to determine which method made the puzzle easiest for participants.
Liam Tung from ZDNet explains one of the experiments: “The study involved seven pairs of participants, with one participant acting as an instructor who would guide an 'assembler' in another room though the construction of three-dimensional shapes out of cubes. It then measured the time it took to complete the task and asked participants to rate the experience of 'presence'.” The results of the test were positive for Room2Room, with participants being able to complete the puzzle two minutes faster than on Skype. Microsoft researchers note that, in a questionnaire given to participants after the study, people expressed that they felt their study partners were significantly more present when using Room2Room over Skype.
Limitations of Room2Room
Tung makes sure to note that Room2Room still has some obstacles to overcome, including low-resolution 3D images generated by Room2Room that made it difficult to tell where a person’s projection was looking. Not being able to see a participant’s direct gaze may have contributed to the in-person test being completed three minutes faster than the test using Room2Room.
In addition to the imperfect experience of using the technology, the equipment needed for the project is bulky and hard to set up. Rachel Metz from MIT Technology Review says to not expect the technology in boardrooms anytime soon.
Do you think this is the next great leap in communication or just another gimmick? Sound off with your opinion in the comments!