November 5, 2001, Sunday
Compressed Data; May the Force/Boss Be With You, in 3-D
By CAREN CHESLER (NYT) 493 words
In an early scene in ''Star Wars,'' the robot R2-D2 projects into the room a holographic image of Princess Leia, who implores Obi-Wan Kenobi to help defeat the Empire. Her image was lifelike and three-dimensional, but it was a cinematic gimmick reserved for the movies.
No more. A Dallas company, Teleportec, has introduced technology to transmit holographic images of people over high-speed digital circuits. A chief executive can stand at a lectern in New York, for instance, while a three-dimensional, life-size image of him is projected onto a stage in San Francisco. The executive can remotely see the audience, and the participants on both sides of the transmission can communicate in real time.
''The optical portion of your brain insists the person is in the room because he meets all the criteria,'' said Philip Barnett, a vice president at Teleportec and one of its founders. ''He's life-size, he's making eye contact, and there's no latency between when his mouth moves and you hear the words.''
A special camera captures the subject's image, digitizes it and then transmits it to a remote location over any high-speed line capable of carrying audio and video signals. The image is then funneled through a beam splitter and projected onto a pane of glass, giving it a three-dimensional effect. Users can install the equipment in their offices and pay a subscriber fee of about $5,000 a month for each location, or they can rent conference rooms equipped with the technology for about $500 an hour.
Teleportec is pitching its product to executives of Fortune 500 companies, government agencies and educational institutions as a way to beam themselves to a remote location without actually having to be there. Executives from BP and Nortel Networks have already used the technology in giving speeches. And CB Richard Ellis, a commercial real estate firm with headquarters in Los Angeles, plans to use the technology to show clients properties in remote cities.
The system has reached the market at an opportune time for Teleportec. Many companies have cut travel budgets and are increasingly relying on various forms of teleconferencing in response to the economic downturn and concern about terrorism.
HQ Global Workplaces, a Dallas company that rents videoconferencing rooms and plans to offer Teleportec's technology, says its more conventional videoconferencing business has doubled since Sept. 11.
''The National Business Travel Association says a one-day business trip costs $1,500,'' said Todd Foster, an HQ vice president. ''We can do a videoconference for six or seven hours before you would reach that cost.''
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