New videoconference system brings people closer
TOKYO, April 8 — Videoconferences of the near future may no longer be awkward conversations with participants talking over each other, long pauses and confusion over who is meant to be speaking.
A torturous experience for many, advances in video conferencing technology by Japanese telecommunications giant NTT will make participants believe they are all sitting in the same room together, making eye contact and responding to the physical movements — nods, smiles, shrugs — that are such an important part of human interaction.
Devised by the company’s research and development laboratories, the MM-Space system is able to record the faces and voices of participants in the conference, no matter where they are in the world, and transmits them to a space where the conversation is physically reconstructed.
Just as in a conventional conference, the speakers can be arranged around a table. In the place of the physical participants are projectors, see-through screens, actuators and sound speakers.
The component parts are placed in direct relation to the people who are speaking. A life-size image of the face and upper torso of each of the speakers is projected onto the see-through screen and the background is removed to make it appear that the person is physically present.
The intention, NTT’s developers say, is to convince those taking part that they are actually all in one room and having an ordinary conversation together.
To make the experience even more realistic, the screens showing the individual’s faces turn as they turn to talk to a different person, making it clear who is talking to who around the table.
Research has shown that this inability to be certain who a person is conversing with is one of the biggest causes of communication breakdowns in conventional teleconferencing systems.
The screen also uses face-tracking technology to nod, giving a more visible demonstration to those involved in the conversation of the person’s feelings on an issue.
NTT says it has not perfected the system yet but it aims to have MM-Space operating in real time in the near future.
It is also considering the optimal placement of cameras and a number of other minor issues that need to be overcome before the system is ready to deploy to the boardroom.
Other companies have attempted similar projects, such as the Virtual Holiday Dinner — available on certain days at http://www.virtualholidaydinner.com/ — that is designed to bring together family members even though they might be far apart for festive occasions.
Elsewhere, Telcordia Technologies is doing research on eye-to-eye teleconferencing that makes use of rear projection screens with video cameras in an effort to increase the level of non-verbal communication. — Afp-Relaxnews