Exclusive: Google's vision of 3D conversational chats is going from booth to flat screen.
While most people have chosen to avoid wearing VR and AR headsets for one-on-one group chats, Google's Project Starline envisions some sort of happy medium between corporate Zooms and a future of floating holograms. The glasses-free 3D technology, which I got to demo last year, was originally designed to be a room-size installation. The latest prototype shown at Google's I/O developer conference now shows it's shrunken to the size of a large TV.
According to a Google blog post, the new prototypes are already being tested in trial groups at Salesforce, T-Mobile and WeWork. The goal is to shrink the experience down to something closer to a "more traditional video conferencing system."
Starline, created by some of the Google team that helped build the company's Daydream VR platform years ago, is a surprisingly convincing and sometimes uncanny full-size video chat experience. My conversation with someone over Starline last fall felt like talking to someone who was sitting right across from me: people seem realistically sized, and the array of cameras and depth-sensing equipment create realistic eye contact in a way that regular home video chats over tablets, phones and laptops sometimes don't.
The new design is made to sit next to a desk, making it seem like the 3D person sitting across from you is at the other side with you having a chat. The somewhat intimate feel of the first Starline demo I had was part of what made it feel even more like I was having a chat with someone at a coffee shop or office, as opposed to a farther-off webchat.
Google's had plans to install Project Starline in corporate offices as test programs to see if the idea, developed as a Labs project, could expand to other businesses. The new design, which looks a lot more like a real product than the experimental array of cameras I tried, certainly looks more office-friendly.
Google isn't the only company working on solving better video chats: Logitech's Project Ghost, which has a planned launch later this year, has a similar telepresence solution that doesn't use glasses-free 3D and can use more off-the-shelf webcam hardware.
As more next-wave AR hardware manufacturers like Apple, Google and Samsung start to test other ideas, maybe the idea of holographic collaboration will grow in different directions. In the meantime, Google's Project Starline looks like it might be an intermediary step to figure out something that works without wearing anything at all.