Thanks to the ongoing global pandemic, friends and family can count the months they haven’t seen each other. While video calls help, flat video lacks a certain warmth. That’s why Google’s new Project Starline comes in—a magic-like window that puts your distant family in the room in lifelike 3D.
Let’s rip the band-aid off with the bad news up front: You can’t buy Google’s new magic window. The company called this “Project” Starline for a reason. It’s pretty likely that even if Google tried to offer the thing for sale today, it’d be priced so high the average person couldn’t afford it in the first place.
But the entire concept is astounding and just short of magical, a word often overused. Project Starline looks something like a modern vanity at first, only with the mirror taken out of the frame. But turn it on, and you’re greeting with a life-size 3D image of a person so real, you’ll want to reach out and touch them.
It’s Zoom meets Augmented Reality, and it relies on a lot of cameras to make the magic happen. On each end, a series of cameras take images of a person from many angles and then composites the information. Spacial audio and careful positioning of the video allow you to make “eye contact” with the person you’re speaking with, even though they aren’t in the room.
Google had to create new ways to compress the large amount of data involved in making Project Starline work, and it’s not clear if that holds up over large distances. For now, every test of the system occurred inside Google’s offices. It’s not a perfect system yet either. Look at the videos closely, and you can see aberrations in hair, in the chin line, and even skin colors look a little off.
But based on the reactions of the people in the video and on just seeing the video itself, it’s convincing enough for now. People tried to reach out and touch each other in the demos despite knowing they weren’t in the room together.
Google says it’s working to make the technology more affordable and accessible and even set up trial Enterprise with partners later this year. And speaking of later this year, the company promised more information to come. But for now, Google just demonstrated one of the most remarkable and convincing uses of Augmented Reality yet— bringing us closer together, no matter how far apart we might really be.