Google Makes Virtual Calls Feel Real With Project Starline

26 May, 2021 (Wednesday)

Because of travel restrictions and mandated office closures caused by the coronavirus pandemic, virtual calls and meetings have become a regular part of everyday life. While video chats are part of the new normal, Google says that two-dimensional listening and seeing someone on your computer is not nearly comparable to a real-life meeting, particularly with a lower resolution camera.

To reduce the dissonance caused by virtual calls, Google is working on a project that elevates the virtual meeting experience to more of a three dimensional experience, known as Project Starline. 

Project Starline makes use of the most recent advances in computer vision, machine learning, spatial audio, and real-time compression to bring individuals from different cities and nations together. Furthermore, Google claims to have created a revolutionary light field display technology that gives a feeling of dimension and depth without requiring users to wear extra glasses or headsets to immerse themselves in the experience.

Clay Bavor, who works at Google and manages teams focusing on virtual and augmented reality, had the concept for the project. In an interview with Wired, Bavor says he wanted “full-on photo-realistic, volumetric video meetings that make it look, sound, and feel like the other person is sitting across the table from you—no headset required.”

In practice, this translates to a video booth outfitted with technology that both users enter from their respective places. Users may participate in a face-to-face live video call with the other life-sized person seated exactly in front of them thanks to their enormous 65-inch monitor.

The project is still in progress, and it is doubtful that it will be commercially available or reasonably accessible for personal usage very soon. According to Google, Starline's prototypes are presently available in only a few of its locations and rely on custom-built hardware and highly specialized technology, but the firm feels that this is a step toward where virtual communication like this "can and should go." Google intends to trial installations for its commercial partners later this year.