The pandemic drove video chats to explode in popularity, highlighting that they are no substitute for meetings in the same room. As a result, Google aims to alleviate this shortcoming with Project Starline, an AR video booth seeking to be the future of meetings. But what is it?
Announced at Google I/O in 2021, Project Starline is an AR videoconferencing booth for enterprises. Starline can simulate in impressive fidelity the virtual person’s attentiveness, micro reactions, eye contact, and body language. As Andrew Nartker, director of product management for Starline, said to The Verge: “We think we have a breakthrough in communication technology that makes you feel closer and more connected with people”.
Construction-wise, the Starline booths are by customized hardware and, as such, are expensive and filled to the brim with tech.
Google’s Project Starline uses infrared (IR) sensors and projectors, high-resolution tracking cameras, color spectrum cameras, and stereo cameras to scan and portray the users. The last, stereo cameras, is a dual camera setup able to simulate human binocular vision (depth and 3D) from our two eyes. Then after this tracking data is analyzed by machine learning and compressed to be streamed over the cloud, the result is that people, despite being located far away, feel like they are in the same room with you.
In a nutshell, the 3D image is produced by a lenticular lens array placed in front of a display. This array consists of multiple ripples embedded in a lens, showing you a different part of the screen behind it depending on your angle. Think of the holographic holiday cards that change the image based on the angle it is viewed. If you want to delve deeper into how Project Starline works – check out Google’s research paper.
Project Starline is currently in an early access program, tested inside Googleplex offices, Salesforce, T-Mobile, WeWork, and Hackensack Meridian Health. For now, there is no official release date for Project Starline, but expect it only to be seen in office buildings.