A 3-D Telepresence Collaborative Working Environment
"Telepresence," the ability to project an audiovisual representation across distance, is one of the obstacles yet to be overcome for using networked communication technologies to substitute for physical presence. This is used both in the sense of a person (an individual participating in a meeting), a physical object (a 3-D model that can be viewed by another person), or an environment (the ability for a person to experience a "space" remotely).
Some progress has been made in this area:
- There is an existing "through-the-window" paradigm, which gives individuals the ability to teleconference through the computer.
- Some degree of "virtual reality" has been achieved using a head-mounted display and wireframe models
- 3-D Rendering - Various photographic and video techniques have been developed to give a person the ability to view a panorama as a seamless 'bubble", or to view and manipulate a 3-D object
- Collaborative workspace - Individuals can share a document remotely, not merely reading its content, but also participating in group editing.
There is also a project to create the a system called VIRTUE (Virtual Team User Environment), and I suspect that the author is in some way involved, as much of the remainder of the chapter discusses its progress.
This system enables a user to sit at a console, like a table, where he views others on a screen (such that it appears that they are sitting at the very same table), while a number of cameras pointed back at the subject provide his image to the other participants in a 3-D rendering. Their sense is that this system is more realistic, and better captures nonverbal elements (expression and gestures, for example) than the traditional head-in-a-window approach to teleconferencing.
The author then goes off on a long rant about the various system tricks used to composite the images captured by a number of cameras into a three-dimensional representation, minimizing distortion by using mathematical extrapolation, simple equations like this:
EN: In addition to being unfathomable in its complexity, this article is of little interest to me, as I'm more interested in the practical applications that the mathematical magic that goes on backstage, but apparently, it's mighty cool and they're getting better at it. In the end, though, I wonder if all this effort isn't for a very slight improvement over the head-in-a-box approach to teleconferencing, and would be more interested in seeing measures of its effectiveness rather than an exploration of the technical wizardry.