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Virtual traveller: Beam a live, 3D you into the world

April 16, 2013 | Telepresence Options

virtual reality holodeck
Story and Images by Catherine Brahic / NewScientist

Thanks to a virtual reality and telepresence mashup, you no longer have to travel the globe to visit friends or wander around ancient ruins

ONE day, I'll play hide and seek with my niece. I'll turn around while she hides, and later, a flash of purple cotton will make me peer over the log she's hiding behind. It sounds pedestrian, except I will be in London, Lucie will be 7800 kilometres away, and we will be playing together in a virtual jungle.

The virtual reality (VR) system that will make my fantasy possible is sitting in a lab at the Bauhaus University in Weimar, Germany. It combines 3D glasses and a hack of Microsoft's Kinect to allow the life-size images of up to six people to be beamed to distant locations and recreated in a virtual space - in 3D and in real time. It has a big hint of�Star Trek's holodeck about it.

Not only does this mash-up of telepresence and VR promise to make long-distance communication more immersive and fun; it is already being applied to an archaeology project that could help reveal the ancient secrets of European rock art.

To create a multi-user VR system, up to six people must wear bespoke 3D glasses and stand in front of a large screen, onto which 3D images are projected. Unlike a 3D movie, where everyone in the audience sees what is projected on the screen from the same angle, the Weimar team's system takes into account your position relative to the display. Sensors on the glasses track each individual's location, movement and even the tilt of their head.

In a demo of the system, six participants inspect a full-size projection of Michelangelo's�David. Each only sees the perspective that is appropriate to their location, so if they move from left to right, their view of�David's profile changes, as if they were walking around the real statue. They can also see each other and interact with the display together, by pointing to it or by manipulating the virtual objects and environment using a tabletop trackpad.

"The key thing is that because it's 3D, if one person points at an object, the others have to have their own unique 3D view to get what he's pointing at," says�Anthony Steed�of University College London. "Without this, the effect can be confusing or nauseating."

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