Video conferencing solved the “you talkin’ to me?” problem ages ago, when business executives first started using sophisticated telepresence suites to share moisturizing tips. The thing is, catching a person’s eye somehow has greater instinctive impact when you actually see them turn around to face you. That’s exactly the sensation that NTT engineers have tried to replicate with the MM-Space conferencing system. It’s demoed after the break by a pleasant-looking (Oil of Olay?) Japanese woman — and even though you can’t hear a word she says, the rotating, nodding translucent screen definitely lends her some extra gravitas.
MM-Space, being developed by a lab at NTT, is a system designed to make users of video conferencing systems involving several people feel as if they are talking to each other in the same room.
This system records the faces and voices of users from the spaces where they’re talking, and transmits them to spaces where the conversation is recreated. A recreation space has several projectors, see-through screens, actuators, and speakers, positioned in accordance with the users.
To make users feel as if the conversation is happening seamlessly in the real world, the system removes the background from each user, and projects a life-size image on the see-through screen.
In an actual face-to-face conversation, nonverbal information, such as looking people in the eye, shaking your head, and nodding, plays a vital role in smooth communication. So in this system, users’ head movements are reflected as physical movements of the screen, using face tracking.
This makes it easy for users to see who is looking at whom, and whether people are looking at them. It has been confirmed that this helps users to look in the right direction, which has been shown to be a particular problem with videoconferencing systems so far.
Currently, NTT is working to make the system function in real time. The company plans to do more thorough tests, as well as considering optimal camera positioning and issues involved in real-time communication.