So we’re all very familiar with teleportation, Star Trek style. The ability to teleport from one place to another in an instant has been a centuries old dream and continues to be so as we are still no way near that kind of technology. However a certain type of beaming is no longer pure science fiction.
An international project funded by the European Commission was set up to investigate how a person can visit a remote locations via the internet and feel fully immersed in the new environment. While you may not believe this to be possible due to the current European financial woes, it has actually been achieved by a visitor being embodied as an avatar or a robot, interacting with real people.
Motion capture technology such as the Microsoft’s Kinect games console, robots, 3D glasses and special haptic suits with body sensors are all used to create a rich, realistic experience that reproduces the feeling of “presence”.
As with all technology, like basic dell laptops, this equipment is getting cheaper all the time and researchers expect that in the near future it will be quite easy to set up a beaming enabled room in your home, with beaming actually using less bandwidth than conventional video streaming. Project leader Mel Slater, professor of virtual environments at University College London, calls beaming augmented reality as opposed to virtual reality. The argument is that unlike the virtual worlds of computer games, beaming involves robots and avatars that interact with real people in real places.
He and his team have beamed people from Barcelona to London, embodying them either as a robot or as an avatar. One avatar was able to rehearse a play with a real actor, with the person being beamed to emit 3D images on the walls of their room.
There is an ocean of possible uses for the technology. Teleconferencing would be transformed, reducing the need for business professionals to jet around the world.
The cinema experience is another obvious use creating an augmented effect. Coupled with the sensation of smell, viewers would almost feel as if they were in the film.
Beaming sessions could help boost military morale by giving soldiers based overseas a sense of being back home with their loved ones. The same would relate to workers posted abroad. If a patient is unable to travel to their doctor’s surgery, an augmented doctor could visit them at home. The possibilities are endless.
There have been ethical concerns raised regarding the beaming project. It may be possible for rapists and paedophiles to access victims without ever having to leave their home, or living in countries with poor law enforcement structures. People’s avatars could be hacked or stolen leading to risk of identity theft. And electronic crime is far more difficult to trace and successfully prosecute.
Whilst there are pros and cons, it is without doubt this technology or a more ethical variant will find its place throughout society.
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