Tele-Immersion or the use of holographic environments is the next step to Internet video conferencing. This technology aims to produce a computer-generated central environment in which participants from anywhere in the world can interact as if they are in the same room. This technology goes far beyond the current technological combination of telephony and Internet by videoconferencing to exchange data.
Tele-Immersion will be able to address the line-of-sight limitations of the current video conferencing technology. With the use of holographic environments, users will be able to have an unrestricted view of the other person's environment.
Creating a holographic environment will need several equipments. The first will be a computer that will recognize and track movements and presence of objects and people inside a room. This is essential in projecting the same images and movements to the other party using a surface that will be stereo-immersive.
The creation of holographic environments may seem a lot like virtual reality, but it's actually very different since virtual reality allows the user to move and manipulate objects in the virtual environment while tele-immersion does not. With the merging of these two technologies, users will be able to manipulate objects in a holographic environment without having to use virtual reality headgears, making for a very realistic computer-generated environment.
Tele-Immersion Technology History
During the early years of research on Tele-immersion by National Tele-Immersion Initiative or NTII and the University of North Carolina, users were required to wear a head device and special goggles to track the user's eye movements much like a virtual reality headgear.
To recreate the environment and depth, video cameras were used at the other end to track movements and capture light patterns to calculate the distances in the room. The images were then polarized and divided in order to present a different image to each eye at the rate of 3 frames per second. This is somewhat similar to the 3-D glasses we use in the movies.
However, because of the low refresh rate of the frames, the image appeared somewhat jerky. The project however was successful as on May 2000, several researchers located in the University of North Carolina were able to communicate with researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and Advanced Networks and Services using this technology. The two groups were able to communicate inside a room with of lifelike and three dimensional representations of their colleagues more than a hundred miles away.
Technologies Needed to Support the Holographic Environments of Tele-Immersion
Tele-Immersion is still far from being opened to the market. The major hurdles that the researchers have to overcome before this technology becomes a reality are a internet that is faster by a factor of 1000 than today's standards to enable the transfer of massive amounts of data, new display technologies like stereo immersive display capable of generating lifelike images, haptic sensors that would enable users to interact with the environment, and finally more powerful desktop computers capable of handling the necessary calculations and programs to support holographic environments.