Microsoft Research

Microsoft's new 'holoportation' tech lets you jump into someone else's reality

Skype on steroids.

DAVID NIELD
1 APR 2016
 

You've probably already heard about the HoloLens, Microsoft's much-hyped new augmented reality (AR) headset, but details have just been released about a cool new feature coming to the hardware called 'holoportation'. Basically, it lets you jump into someone else's reality as a full-sized, three-dimensional hologram, just like in the movies.

So if you're having a business meeting, for example, remote staff members can appear in the same room together, or if you're having a video call with grandma, she can stand right in front of you rather than appearing on a flat laptop screen. It feels like technology straight from the future, and it's coming soon to an AR headset near you.

 

At the heart of holoportation is a new 3D capture system developed by Microsoft Research. A series of cameras are set up around a room, tracking shapes and movement and stitching a 3D model together in real time. The necessary data is then compressed and transmitted to a headset like the HoloLens, which can show the motion-captured figure as if it's really in the room.

The system has a few other tricks up its sleeve too: audio can be included together with the 3D video; sessions can be recorded and played back at a later date; and the holoported feed can be shrunk down to a smaller size, so you could watch a rerun of the kids' playtime on the top of your coffee table, for example.

"Imagine using this type of capture technology to connect with family members who are thousands of miles away," says Microsoft's Research's Shahram Izadi, adding that it could "fundamentally change the way that people will communicate in the future".

Speaking and interacting with friends, family, and work colleagues could become almost as natural as it is when you're face-to-face - except for the fact that everyone involved has to have a heavy AR device strapped to their head.

There are various approaches to holographic images currently in development - with and without the use of 3D glasses - but Microsoft's new technology is notable in how advanced and stable it already is, even if extra hardware is required to achieve it.

Holoportation is just one of many potential uses for the HoloLens and other AR headsets like it. Microsoft has previously shown off how the device can bring interactive games into your living room and project a large flat screen of any size on to the wall for you to enjoy movies on.

While early versions of the $3,000 HoloLens are now shipping to developers, it's going to be a while yet before the rest of us can go out and buy one. But get ready for it, because the tech giants of the world aren't going to let augmented and virtual reality go away any time soon. And if that means holoportation in every loungeroom of the future, we're all in.

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