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About this Article
Written by: Ammar Chinoy
Written on: June 16th, 2003
Tags: electrical engineering, entertainment, lifestyle
Thumbnail by: Amez/Wikimedia Commons
About the Author
At the time of writing this article, Ammar Chinoy was a Junior majoring in Computer Science at USC. He heard approximately forty Pearl Jam songs while writing this article in Madrid, Spain.
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Volume V Issue III > Immersed in Reality
Tele-Immersion (TI) involves the construction of a three dimensional (3D), realistic holographic environment where two or more physically separated users can communicate with each other in real-time. Existing video conferencing applications lack this dimensionality and realism. Tele-Immersion is an engineering solution to this deficiency and is made possible by combining state-of-the-art multimedia technologies with high-speed data transfer. Although the basic premise of TI is essentially the same as video conferencing, its applications span a much broader range of fields. Everything from home theater to war will be affected by the implementation of Tele-Immersive technology. TI might ultimately eliminate the need for unnecessary travel, and in effect be equivalent to science fictive teleportation. This essay explains the revolutionary technology that surrounds Tele-Immersion and discusses several potential applications.

Immersed in Reality

The camera pans and zooms in, focusing on the face of a young man as he leans forward over a candlelit restaurant dinner table. An attractive young woman, his girlfriend, sits across the table from him. The man stares at the reflection of the candle's burning flame as it flickers in the woman's eyes. Both of them are completely "immersed" in the moment, oblivious of their surroundings. The man slowly reaches into his pocket and pulls out a diamond ring. Without saying a word, he extends the ring towards the woman's hand and gently slips it onto her finger. A smile dances across his face. A tear emerges from her eye and rolls down her cheek. It was a stereotypical Hollywood romantic scene, minus the acting and slow motion. This moment was real? Almost. The man is in Los Angeles, the woman in Madrid? Yet they are both in the same room.
Confused? Read on. This is just one of the many potential applications of Tele-Immersion.

Introduction

Tele-Immersion (TI) allows two or more geographically separated groups or individuals to communicate with each other in real-time in a shared virtual environment (NTII). Simply stated, Tele-Immersion is the intersection of virtual reality (VR) and video conferencing. However, Tele-Immersion is more than just a sophisticated mode of video conferencing. Whereas video conferencing is limited to moving images displayed on a computer screen and sound emerging from speakers, TI aims to introduce realism and allow people to communicate with "more than just words." Ultimately, Tele-Immersion will let people move around and converse in a realistic three-dimensional space, make direct eye contact with each other, and even manipulate virtual objects together.
The importance of non-verbal communication in conveying thoughts and ideas and the human desire for shared physical presence cannot be understated or disregarded. With this understanding, engineers and researchers across American universities are at work to make TI a universal reality. Greg Welch, a computer scientist and part of the Tele-Immersion team at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, recognized the significance of "being there," as he succinctly described it [1]. Similarly, TI engineer Kostas Daniilidis at University of Pennsylvania was motivated "...to make something useful for society and for people." In order to appreciate the engineering efforts underlying Tele-Immersion, one must understand both the engineering principles involved, as well as the potential applications of TI, especially in the realm of communications.

The Engineering Involved

Tele-Immersion is the synergy from a number of engineering feats. Take hi-definition image/video rendering and processing, add a 360-degree virtual surround sound system, introduce a force-feedback mechanism, combine all this with high-speed data transfer and include networking technology in a three-dimensional, simulated virtual reality environment. The result? Tele-Immersion. Thus, the construction of a realistic Tele-Immersive environment brings together many minds from diverse fields of engineering. Although the sheer number of technologies involved makes TI seemingly complex, its functionality can be traced and understood by almost anyone.
At the core of Tele-Immersion is the successful creation of a real-time holographic environment. Generating a holographic environment requires three basic processes: recognizing human presence, tracking human-environment interaction, and finally projecting this information in a realistic 3D form on a stereo-immersive surface [2].