The world's gone hybrid now. Many people work from home, and video meetings are office fixtures. What's the value of coming into an office? Companies are still trying to figure this out, and so are manufacturers of office furniture. Logitech's collaboration with Steelcase, called Project Ghost, is an office telepresence booth that's designed to feel like remote meetings are really happening in person, instead of on a laptop or TV screen.
No one's wearing VR or AR glasses around any normal office; we're all in video chats to connect. That's sparked some companies like Google to explore advanced 3D video booths like Project Starline that promise life-size, eye-to-eye conversations with people at a distance. My demo of Project Starline last year was astonishing, but not something that can be set up in any normal office easily. Logitech's Project Ghost is a similar idea but designed to be easier to set up at a lower cost, without the glasses-free 3D part and at what will likely be a lower budget.
Ghost's technology is meant to be pretty simple: It uses a mirror to project the video chat over a hidden webcam, so the camera is disguised and actual eye contact ends up feeling real. The screen also shows the person you're chatting with at full scale. Project Ghost nestles the display into a wall unit, with a lounge seat and a semi-walled booth around it. According to Logitech and Steelcase's designers on Project Ghost, it's meant to feel as comfortable as being at home.
I haven't tried out Ghost yet (Logitech is setting up demos in New York in the spring; for now it's showing off this concept at a Barcelona trade show), but it sounds very much like the same proposition as Project Starline: that eye contact makes for meaningful conversations, that life-size video chats end up being remembered as more real. I don't know how this would actually impact meetings or virtual connections at an office, but my one Starline demo did feel a lot different than a normal video chat.
Logitech's ambitions for Project Ghost don't just stop at offices, though. Much like Starline, the hope is that these booths could be used in places where an in-person employee could be replaced by a video-streamed replacement.
The furniture designed as part of Project Ghost is supposed to be available for interested companies by the end of the year, but the office video-conferencing tech it uses is already available. The reflective embedded mirror display with hidden camera -- which is the same "Pepper's Ghost" illusion that's been in stage magic and theme park attractions for decades -- is the one new wrinkle here.
Will it be enough to make a more inviting environment for virtual chats than what's already on your laptop or phone? Unclear. But Logitech's bigger angle here is seeing whether offices and corporations can find ways to make their own unevolved, prepandemic office constructs feel more appealing to a world that's very different now.
It's a project more than an absolute product at the moment, and Logitech is looking for feedback -- mine is that, while I think comfy life-size video chats could be surprisingly relaxing and even lifelike, I don't think they'd be enough to convince me to come into an office that was using them. In that sense, maybe I'd be the one beaming in from the other side.