Google is getting serious about giant video chat booths, starting real-world testing

Google is getting serious about giant video chat booths, starting real-world testing
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Project Starline cabin featuring a 3D display and multiple cameras.
extend / Project Starline cabin featuring a 3D display and multiple cameras.


Google seems serious about its wild “Project Starline” video booth idea. Mysterious project was announced As part of the Google I/O 2021 keynote, but initially overshadowed by the more prominent announcements of Wear OS and Android. It’s been a year and Google is still moving forward with this idea, announces extended enterprise trials with third parties. Google also said it is working on making Starline “more accessible.”

Project Starline basically asks, “What if Zoom was a giant, sit-down arcade machine?” While the home console version of video chat consists of a tiny camera above your laptop screen, Starline 3D brings video chat to life in a 7×7-foot seat booth, seemingly without regard for cost, size or commercialization. The goal is to show that the other person is in the room with you, and Google classifies this as a “research project.”

As for what Starline actually is, a Google Research paper contains a good amount of detail. On the screen side of the video booth are 14 cameras and 16 IR projectors, all of which work to create, capture and track a photorealistic 3D avatar of the user in real time. Four microphones and two speakers not only reproduce speech; spatialized audio and dynamic beamforming make speech sound as if it were coming from the avatar’s mouth.

Sending a 3D avatar over a video chat connection allows Google to correct the eye line, which is always a problem in a regular video chat. While a webcam above the screen makes it impossible to make eye contact while looking at the screen, a 3D avatar can break the connection between the center of the camera and the center of the screen, allowing for mutual eye contact. Google concentrates all this data on a large dual Xeon workstation with “four NVIDIA GPUs (two Quadro RTX 6000 and two Titan RTX)”.

The display is a 65-inch, 8K, 60Hz autostereoscopic lenticular panel that creates a glasses-free 3D view of a life-size avatar. It’s basically a big Nintendo 3DS, but with a bigger sweet spot thanks to head tracking. On the other side of the stand is infrared lighting and a bench that looks stiff enough to limit the user to the 3D sweet spot of the screen and limit the scope of the entire avatar creation system. Google even built a small barrier between the bench and the display to hide the bottom of the screen. Instead of the avatar ending up awkwardly when you tap the bottom of the screen, the physical obstruction at the bottom of the screen supposedly tricks your brain into thinking the rest of the avatar is behind the obstruction. Google seems committed to controlling all possible variables with Project Starline, so much so that the stand even features its own lighting system, both diffuse visible lighting to aid in 3D texturing and large infrared illumination to aid in 3D imaging.

People who have tried Starline looks like considering you have to be personally invited by Google to try it out, that’s quite a few people. It’s hard to imagine a large market for a six-figure video stand the size of a small bathroom, but Google is moving forward with more testing. “Today, Project Starline prototypes are found in Google offices across the U.S., where employees use the technology every day for meetings, employee engagement, and communication with colleagues,” Google said in a statement.

Unlike the highly polished teaser video, this Siggraph presentation does a better job of explaining what’s going on.

The company continues: “In addition to Google employees, we also invited more than 100 enterprise partners in fields such as media, healthcare and retail to participate in demonstrations at Google offices and give us feedback on their experiences and business applications. We see. Project Starline a number of across industries can add business value, and we’re focused on making it more accessible.” Salesforce, WeWork, T-Mobile and Hackensack Meridian Health have all signed up to try it out. WeWork, a company that relies on renting very expensive office space, seems particularly enthusiastic about the idea.

Google can talk about “research” all it wants, but the company famously aggressive when it comes to killing things that don’t have hundreds of millions of users. Will there ever be a product here? Starline is adjacent to the huge enterprise meeting equipment market, but several limitations make Starline difficult for serious meetings. Enterprise meeting equipment is usually designed for a large group sitting around a table, and wide compatibility means that anyone can call a meeting with almost any equipment. Starline only works with one person for one-on-one chats and you can only talk to other Starline cabins. Is there a market for VIP-to-VIP communication booths like the modern version of the president’s red phone?

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