Decades ago, people speculated about what the future would look like. There was speculation of flying cars, automatic kitchens, robot maids, and of course hologram video calling.

Microsoft is ready to make part of those futuristic visions a reality in 2018.

It’s certainly not perfect, but the development of systems like life-size telepresence help move us closer to the most immersive digital communication forms possible.

How Room2Room Works

It’s almost holograms – but not quite. When you picture 3D calling you probably thought of a perfect, dimensional replica of the person you’re speaking to. Unfortunately, in regards to Room2Room, Microsoft has some work left to do to get it to that point.

Room2Room utilizes an existing program from Microsoft called RoomAlive. Room alive is an augmented reality software that transforms rooms into an immersive and interactive experience.

Like RoomAlive, Room2Room uses Microsoft’s Kinect sensor. These units are primarily used for entertainment and gaming purposes coupled with one of Microsoft’s Xbox units, but Microsoft seems to be exploring options for expanding their functionality.

For Room2Room to work properly, two separate Kinect/Projector combo setups have to be positioned. The two Kinect sensors scan the image of the participants and projectors display a replicated image of the scanned person into each room.

The images are projected onto an open space, either a blank wall or something like a chair or couch. The idea is for the viewpoint to be similar to what it would be like to be physically sharing the room with the other participant.

What Are the Effects on Communication Brought About by Room2Room

Researchers used Room2Room to conduct a study on 3D calling and its effectiveness as a means of communication. We know that we communicate less effectively using technology than we do in-person, and the advancement of 3D telepresence technology may be a step towards making virtual conversations more effective.

The study was made up of seven pairs of participants. Researchers had the participants work with their partners to build 3D block structures over augmented reality.

One participant in the pair was designated as the “assembler” and placed in front of a table with blocks while the other was designated as the “instructor” and was handed a printout of a schematic for building a structure. Researchers conducted this activity with pairs in-person, over Skype, and using the Room2Room system. 

The instructor was allowed to utilize communication in that he or she could point at blocks, gesture, and speak to the assembler but was not allowed to show the schematic in any of the tests.

Participants were timed. Those who completed the task in-person completed it, on average, in four minutes. It took those using Room2Room on average about 3 minutes longer, however, the average time for those using Skype was even longer.

This evidence suggests that, while not perfect, Room2Room is a step towards perfecting virtual conversations.

The Feasibility of Room2Room

It’s a novel concept, and we’ll be ecstatic when it’s more advanced, but, as of now, Room2Room is not consumer ready. While it seems that face to face conversation is an improvement over traditional video conferencing, there are still some essential issues that Microsoft will need to address.

For example, the hardware will need to be simplified. The setup requires a set of three ceiling-mounted projector and camera units at each location – meaning that for one conversation between two people, Room2Room would require 6 cameras and 6 projectors.

Additionally, just like Skype, the image is dependent on a consistent internet connection on the part of both participants. Oftentimes the image in Room2Room is pixelated, frozen or distorted. The effects of this are seen more easily in life-size telepresence than they would be on a laptop screen.

Also, the system doesn’t quite perfectly account for nonverbal communication. It is reportedly hard to tell where the other person’s gaze is actually pointed, which means a lot in face to face conversation. 

Please note, however, that all of the issues mentioned are surmountable. Room2Room has overcome all of the challenges that made it a difficult project and now it must only be fine-tuned.

Room2Room Will Undoubtedly Revolutionize Virtual Communication – But, In What Timeframe?

The benefits of life-size, virtual face to face conversation are clear. But, in what timeline is this technology expected to become mainstream?

There’s no set date for release of a consumer version of this tech as it is still in development by Microsoft, however some experts have their opinion.

Tobias Höllerer, a professor with expertise in Augmented Reality at the University of California, Santa Barbara, noted that the tech issues with Room2Room are easily fixable and speculated that the public will be using this technology in the coming years.

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