As we move closer to the metaverse and continue to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, the concept of holograms and telepresence are getting more attention. This week, I met with ARHT Media, a Toronto-based company with a modern-day answer for presenters who need to get to virtual remote locations without risking their health. It’s a telepresence solution called Holopresence geared toward on-stage performances (and it could be an option for remote live performances, as well).
Whether they’re business leaders, politicians, or performers, highly valued people hop on planes routinely to get to remote events. If an event is virtual, they don’t need to travel — but many localized events still want an audience. The energy from a live audience has yet to be successfully duplicated by a virtual event. Speakers used to talking in front of real people often struggle when talking to a camera. And when a speaker appears at a remote conference via video streaming, it not only feels artificial to the people on hand, but the speaker generally can’t see the audience — making it harder to get timing right or read the room in real time.
Professional speakers learn to adjust their tone, speaking speed and content on the fly to keep the audience engaged. Many of us use jokes and humor, but if you can’t see or hear who you’re talking to, pausing for laughter or applause becomes nearly impossible and engagement fails.
But what if you could use telepresence to virtually bring a representation of the speaker into an event? The speaker doesn’t risk getting sick, doesn’t waste time traveling, and can do more speaking events over a fixed period because of the elimination of travel.
ARHT Media answer, Holopresence , can be used for everything from remote presentations and talks, to training and education.
ARHT Media’s Holopresence offering uses green-screen technology to capture an image of the speaker and then project it onto a nearly invisible mesh. The end result makes it look as if the person is on stage in life-like proportions. The further back you are in the audience, the more the avatar looks like a real person. The speaker is surrounded by displays that help make them feel as if they actually at the remote location, with sound piped in so they can both see and hear the audience and can respond to questions with minimal lag.
They not only connect with the audience; they can also interact with people on “stage” with them either virtually or in person. I expect that the virtual-to-virtual speaker experience would require a little training, because seeing the other remote holograms might be disconcerting given their two-dimensional nature. But on stage, the creative use of lighting can yield a 3D-like experience, so the projected avatar doesn’t look flat.
This kind of system could be particularly smart for older and immune-compromised speakers who really shouldn’t be traveling or meeting with large groups at this time. And it could be advantageous during an election campaign, where the life and health of the candidate is critical to the effort.
I would expect professional speakers to eventually have green-screen broadcast rooms at home, but this technology isn’t yet widely enough used to make such an investment practical. (This will likely change as its capabilities and benefits become better known.)
The price — around $25,000 a session — seems high until you realize the cost of lost productivity for an executive or top-level performer. And some speakers might be willing to reduce their speaking fees in exchange for not having to travel or risk illness.
Note: ARHT’s Holopresense works best in darkened environments such as large auditoriums. If you need an in-office solution, or one where there is a lot of ambient light, you could look at Portl’s Teleportation Booth or La Vitre’s large format monitor solution instead.
Why it matters
Putting employees on planes and sending them to events is risky. That risk is heightened by the fact that our best speakers tend to be high-value employees who would be missed if knocked out of commission. And it isn’t just the time they spend at an event; it is the time they are out of touch while in transit that results in additional loss of productivity to the company (and increased stress on the employee). Being able to instantly and safely transmit someone to an event, should be beneficial to both the company and the employee by reducing travel and health risks.
While the price per session isn’t cheap, weighed against the risk of employee loss and potential corporate disruption, it can be justified. I also expect that if a company bought the technology and brought it in house, costs could be significantly reduced. There are at least three options in this space already, with more likely to emerge. I expect this technology to improve and eventually become part of the metaverse — eventually making in-person events obsolescent.
For a look at what may be coming, Holopresense is worth checking out.
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