Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Google's Project Starline

Project Starline

In May 2021, Google CEO Sundar Pichai announced Project Starline: A high-fidelity 3D telepresence system. The pandemic has permanently modified work cultures across several fields. The workforce realized they could accomplish most of their jobs from home. As a result of the new daily, more and more individuals have opted for a digital nomadic lifestyle, where the person travels around the world while doing their jobs remotely. Consequently, popular destinations among digital nomads offer shared workspaces with short-term leases. This 3d video booth has the potential to be the biggest game changer in remote work.

What Project Starline is

Per the research published in ACM Transactions on Graphics, a peer-reviewed journal, Project Starline is a real-time bidirectional communication system that allows two people, separated by distance, to experience a face-to-face conversation as if they were physically together. It is the first telepresence system that is demonstrably better than 2D videoconferencing.

This 3D telepresence innovation relies on maximizing audiovisual fidelity and the sense of physical presence in all design elements (i.e., physical layout, lighting, face tracking, multi-view capture, etc.). The booth achieves key 3D audiovisual cues (stereopsis, motion parallax, and spatialized audio) and enables the full range of communication cues (eye contact, hand gestures, and body language). It does not require special glasses or body-worn microphones/headphones.

  • Some of the system’s components are:
  • A head-tracked autostereoscopic display;
  • High-resolution 3D capture and rendering subsystems;
  • Network transmission using compressed color and depth video streams;
  • A novel image-based geometry fusion algorithm;
  • Free-space dereverberation;
  • Talker localization;
  • And more.

How Project Starline Works

Project Starline uses high-resing cameras and custom depth sensors to capture a user’s appearance from multiple perspectives. The software then fuses the data to create an extremely detailed, real-time 3d model. Afterward, the 3D image is sent over through existing networks (new compression and streaming algorithms reduce the input by more than 100).

The Issues

The researchers on this project tested the hologram booth across various individuals and scenes. While it achieves a new level of audiovisual fidelity, some effects are still not well captured in the system. Thin and semitransparent geometry (e.g., hair and eyeglasses), deep impressions, and fast motion may lead to errors or holes in the reconstructed depth maps, resulting in incorrect geometry and texturing errors.

Project Starline News

Even though Project Starline is still experimental, At Google’s annual Cloud Next conference, the company announced it’s giving early access to select enterprise partners (i.e., T-Mobile, WeWork, and select others) within this year. Until the announcement, google had spent countless hours testing the booth in its own offices; Google has used this technology within its walls since late 2021.

The Pros and Cons

“As we build the future of hybrid work together with our enterprise partners, we look forward to seeing how Project Starline can help employees form strong ties with one another, doctors form meaningful bonds with their patients, and salespeople make deeper connections with their clients and customers,” says Andrew Nartker, Starline’s Director of Product Management. “Whether you’re presenting to a colleague or just sitting down for a coffee chat, we want the Project Starline experience to feel natural as if the person is sitting in the same room as you. More broadly, we are eager to enable workforces to feel energized and productive when collaborating from afar.”

As previously mentioned, this innovation could add more dimension to working remotely. It will allow users to meet as if face-to-face while being time zones apart. Digital nomads all over the globe would seek these devices out for the convenience they provide regarding their lifestyle. Therefore, cities with offices equipped with Project Starline will witness more migration. Furthermore, it appears that the machine does almost everything with minimal input from the user, making it user-friendly. The device would also decrease corporations’ harmful environmental impact by rendering physical meetings unnecessary.

With that in mind, it does not seem to be for the average person but for corporations in their offices. If it were to be made available, the price would be terrifyingly high; the device is, after all, booth-sized with many complex compartments. In addition, even though the increase in migration mentioned above would benefit the cities, it would be to the detriment of the citizens. The housing price will go up, and since citizens do not make as much as foreigners, they will have to move to less ideal but more affordable cities.

Final thoughts

Working remotely is a great benefit. Working remotely without sacrificing efficiency and free time is a real blessing. Project Starline makes a digital nomadic lifestyle all the more possible. The work would be efficiently done, and meetings swiftly resolved. But its potential impact on the rest of the community is quite problematic. We will have to wait and see how the final product performs before releasing a verdict.


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