Tele-Immersion or the use of holographic environments is the next step to internet video conferencing. This technology aims to produce a computer-generated central environment in which participants from anywhere in the world can interact as if they are in the same room. This technology goes far beyond the current technological combination of telephony and internet by videoconferencing to exchange data.
Tele-Immersion will be able to address the line-of-sight limitations of the current video conferencing technology. With the use of holographic environments, users will be able to have an unrestricted view of the other person's environment.
Creating a holographic environment will need several equipments. The first will be a computer that will recognize and track movements and presence of objects and people inside a room. This is essential in projecting the same images and movements to the other party using a surface that will be stereo-immersive.
The creation of holographic environments may seem a lot like virtual reality, but it's actually very different since virtual reality allows the user to move and manipulate objects in the virtual environment while tele-immersion does not. With the merging of these two technologies, users will be able to manipulate objects in a holographic environment without having to use virtual reality headgears, making for a very realistic computer-generated environment.
Tele-Immersion Technology History
During the early years of research on Tele-immersion by National Tele-Immersion Initiative or NTII and the University of North Carolina, users were required to wear a head device and special goggles to track the user's eye movements much like a virtual reality headgear.
To recreate the environment and depth, video cameras were used at the other end to track movements and capture light patterns to calculate the distances in the room. The images were then polarized and divided in order to present a different image to each eye at the rate of 3 frames per second. This is somewhat similar to the 3-D glasses we use in the movies.
However, because of the low refresh rate of the frames, the image appeared somewhat jerky. The project however was successful as on May 2000, several researchers located in the University of North Carolina were able to communicate with researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and Advanced Networks and Services using this technology. The two groups were able to communicate inside a room with of lifelike and three dimensional representations of their colleagues more than a hundred miles away.
Technologies Needed to Support the Holographic Environments of Tele-Immersion
Tele-Immersion is still far from being opened to the market. The major hurdles that the researchers have to overcome before this technology becomes a reality are an internet that is faster by a factor of 1000 than today's standards to enable the transfer of massive amounts of data, new display technologies like stereo immersive display capable of generating lifelike images, haptic sensors that would enable users to interact with the environment, and finally more powerful desktop computers capable of handling the necessary calculations and programs to support holographic environments.
Tele-immersion may be the next major development in information technology. Using tele-immersion, you can visit an individual across the world without stepping a foot outside.
What is tele-immersion?
Tele-Immersion is a new medium that enables a user to share a virtual space with remote participants. The user is immersed in a 3D world that is transmitted from a remote site. This medium for human interaction, enabled by digital technology, approximates the illusion that a person is in the same physical space as others, even though they may be thousands of miles distant. It combines the display and interaction techniques of virtual reality with new computer-vision technologies. Thus with the aid of this new technology, users at geographically distributed sites can collaborate in real time in a shared, simulated, hybrid environment submerging in one another’s presence and feel as if they are sharing the same physical space.
It is the ultimate synthesis of media technologies:
• 3D environment scanning,
• projective and display technologies,
• tracking technologies,
• audio technologies,
• robotics and haptics,
and powerful networking. The considerable requirements for tele-immersion system, make it one of the most challenging net applications.
In a tele-immersive environment computers recognize the presence and movements of individuals and objects, track those individuals and images, and then permit them to be projected in realistic, multiple, geographically distributed immersive environments on stereo-immersive surfaces. This requires sampling and resynthesis of the physical environment as well as the users' faces and bodies, which is a new challenge that will move the range of emerging technologies, such as scene depth extraction and warp rendering, to the next level.
Tele-immersive environments will therefore facilitate not only interaction between users themselves but also between users and computer generated models and simulations. This will require expanding the boundaries of computer vision, tracking, display, and rendering technologies. As a result, all of this will enable users to achieve a compelling experience and it will lay the groundwork for a higher degree of their inclusion into the entire system
Tele-immersive systems have potential to significantly change educational, scientific and manufacturing paradigms. They will show their full strength in the systems where having 3D reconstructed ‘real’ objects coupled with 3D virtual objects is crucial for the successful fulfillment of the tasks. It may also be the case that some tasks would not be possible to complete without having such combination of sensory information. There are several applications that will profit from tele-immersive systems. Collaborative mechanical CAD applications as well as different medical applications are two that will benefit significantly.
Tele-immersion may sound like conventional video conferencing. But it is much more. Where video conferencing delivers flat images to a screen, tele-immersion recreates an entire remote environment. Although not so, tele-immersion may seem like another kind of virtual reality. Virtual reality allows people to move around in a pre-programmed representation of a 3D environment, whereas tele-immersion is measuring the real world and conveying the results to the sensory system.