Google really seems serious about its crazy “Project Starline” video booth idea. the mystery project It was announced as part of the Google I/O 2021 keynote, but was initially overshadowed by more tangible Wear OS and Android announcements. A year has passed and Google is still going ahead with the idea, announcing expanded enterprise trials with third parties. Google says it’s also working to make Starline “more accessible.”
Project Starline basically asks the question, “What if Zoom was a giant sit-down arcade machine?” Whereas the home console version of video chat just involves a tiny camera above your laptop screen, Starline brings 3D video chat to life in a 7×7 foot booth, seemingly without regard to cost, size or marketing. The goal is to make it look like the other person is in the room with you, and Google classifies it as a “research project.”
As for what Starline actually is, a google research paper contains a good amount of detail. The screen side of the video booth features 14 cameras and 16 IR projectors, which work to create, capture and track a real-time, photorealistic 3D avatar of the user. Four microphones and two speakers don’t just reproduce speech; Spatialized audio and dynamic beamforming supposedly make speech sound like it’s coming from the avatar’s mouth.
Sending a 3D avatar over the video chat connection allows Google to correct line of sight, which is an ongoing issue with normal video chat. Where a webcam at the top of a screen makes it impossible to make eye contact while looking at a screen, a 3D avatar can bypass the disconnect between the center of a camera and the center of a screen, allowing for mutual eye contact. . Google is processing all of this data on a rugged 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 generates a glasses-free 3D view of a life-size avatar. It’s basically a great Nintendo 3DS, but with a bigger sweet spot thanks to head tracking. The other side of the cockpit features an infrared backlight and a fairly rigid-looking bench to constrain the user to the 3D sweet spot on the screen and limit the scope of the entire avatar generation system. Google even built a small barrier between the bench and the screen to hide the bottom of the screen. Instead of an avatar ending awkwardly once you hit the bottom of the screen, a physical occlusion over the bottom of the screen supposedly tricks your brain into thinking the rest of the avatar exists behind the barrier. Google seems committed to controlling as many variables as possible with Project Starline, to the point that the booth even has its own lighting system, with diffused visible lighting to help with 3D texture capture and a large infrared backlight to help with 3D images.
People who have tried Starline seems to like but considering you have to be personally invited by Google to try it out, that’s just a very small handful of people. It’s hard to imagine a big market for what must be a six-figure video booth the size of a small bathroom, but Google is pressing ahead with more testing. A statement from Google reads: “Today, Project Starline prototypes are in Google offices across the US, with employees using the technology every day for meetings, employee onboarding, and building peer relationships.” .
The company continues: “In addition to Google employees, we have also invited more than 100 business partners in areas such as media, health care and retail to participate in demonstrations at Google offices and provide us with feedback on the experience and applications. for their businesses. We see many ways Project Starline can add business value across a number of industries, and we remain focused on making it more accessible.” Salesforce, WeWork, T-Mobile, and Hackensack Meridian Health have signed up to try it out. WeWork, a company based on renting overpriced office space, seems particularly excited about the idea.
Google can talk all it wants about “research,” but the company is famous aggressive when it comes to killing things that don’t have hundreds of millions of users. Will there ever be a product here? The Starline is kind of adjacent to the huge business meeting equipment market, but some limitations make the Starline difficult for serious meetings. Business meeting equipment is typically designed for a large group sitting at one table, and broad compatibility means anyone can call into the meeting with almost any hardware. Starline only works with one person for one-on-one chats, and you can only talk to other Starline booths. Is there a market for VIP-to-VIP communication booths, like a modern version of the president’s red telephone?
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