Google is previewing Project Starline, a next-generation 3D video chat booth

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Google is working on a next-generation video chat booth that will make the person you’re chatting with appear in front of you in 3D. You can view them from different angles by moving around and even making eye contact, Google said during a preview of the project at the I / O conference today.

The system is called “Project Starline, ”And it’s actually a really, really nice video chat setup. The platform uses multiple cameras and sensors to capture a person’s appearance and shape from different perspectives. It then merges them into a 3D model that is broadcast in real time to whoever they are chatting with. In Google’s preview, Starline was used for face-to-face conversations (not group chats), and both parties seemed to be using specialized technology so it could all work.

In a demo video, people using the technology describe seeing people as if they were in the same room together. It’s “like she was right in front of me,” says one person.

At the moment the system is big. It appears to be quite a booth, complete with lighting, cameras and a bench to sit on. Google says it relies on “custom hardware and highly specialized equipment.” Wired reports that the booth includes over a dozen different depth sensors and a 65-inch “light field display” to make people appear in 3D. Light field technology has emerged in a number of promising applications over the past decade (Lytro and Avegant both used it), but it has yet to catch on as a way to present people clearly in 3D.

The video chat booth is currently only available in ‘a few’ Google offices and plans to test the technology with business partners later this year. Google listed healthcare and media as two industries it sought feedback from.

After a year of constant reliance on video chat – and now that companies are planning future plans where they rely on video chat more than ever – the promise of more realistic remote calling is exciting. Google makes it sound like Project Starline is a way away from something that can be found in every office, let alone your home. But it means the company is at least working on something significantly better than the blurry phone calls we’re used to.