Google’s Project Starline booth gave me a holographic meeting experience Engadget

It’s been two years since Google introduced its Project Starline holographic video conferencing experiment, and while we didn’t hear much about it in today’s keynote at I/O 2023, there is indeed an update. The company quietly announced that new prototypes of the Starline booth are smaller and easier to deploy. I was able to check out a demo of the experience at Shoreline Park and was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it.

But first, let’s get one thing out of the way. Google didn’t allow us to take pictures or video of the setup. Holographs are hard to capture on camera anyway, so I’m not sure how effective it would be. Because of that limitation, we’re not going to have enough photos for this post and I’ll try my best to describe the experience in words.

After a few brief introductions, I entered a booth with a chair and table in front of the Starline system. The prototype is made of a light-field display that looks like a mesh window, which I imagine is about 40-inches wide. Along the top, left and right edges of the screen are the cameras used by Google to acquire the visual data needed to generate my 3D model. At this point, everything looks fairly unassuming.

Things changed a bit when Andrew Nortker, head of the Project Starline team at Google, stepped into the frame. He sat in his chair in the booth next to me, and as I watched him die, it felt like a very typical 2D experience, except at a higher resolution. He was lifelike and we seemed to hold eye contact and each other’s gaze even when not looking at the camera. When I leaned forward or leaned closer, he did too, and such nonverbal cues made the call a little richer.

Still, I was surprised when he picked up an apple (haha I guess Apple could tell it was at I/O) and held it out to me. It was so realistic that it felt like he could grab the fruit with his fist. We then tried a few other things – fist bumping and high fiving, and although we never made physical contact, the position of the limbs in the call was precise enough that we could pick up the projections of each other’s fists.

The experience wasn’t perfect, of course. When Nortkar and I were talking at the same time, there were parts where I could tell he didn’t hear what I was saying. Every now and then, the graphics flicker or glitch appears. But those were very minor issues and overall the demo was very refined. Some issues can be chalked up to spotty event wifi, and I can personally attest that the signal is very poor indeed.

It’s worth noting that Starline is basically getting me and Nortker’s visual and audio data, sending it to the cloud over WiFi, creating a 3D model of the two of us, and then sending it to the prototype light show and speakers. . Some hiccups are more than understandable.

While early Starline prototypes took up entire rooms, the current version is smaller and easier to deploy. To that end, Google announced today that it has shared some components with early access partners, including T-Mobile, WeWork and Salesforce. The company hopes to get real-world feedback to “see how Project Starline can help distribution workforces stay connected.”

We’re a long way from seeing these in our homes, but it’s nice to get a taste of what Project Starline has been up to so far. This is the first time media demos have been available, so I’m glad I was able to check it out myself and tell you about it instead of relying on Google’s own message. I’m impressed by the realism of the projections, but I’m uncertain how effectively it can replace or supplement in-person conversations. For now, we at Project Starline will keep an eye on Google’s work and keep you posted.

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