In education. Tele-immersion allows geographically-distributed students to come together in a single environment. This is particularly important given the lack of specialist faculty at all required sites, and hence the need to resort to distance education. This technology will result in a much higher level of collaboration among educational institutes. Moreover, it will also help in mitigating the risk, for example, budding surgeons will get a much better experience and training w.r.t. complex situations before actually operating on their first patients. In the similar manner, a pilot will experience an almost life-like flight simulation before his or her maiden flight. School students will be able to access data or govern a telescope from a remote location.

Research activities at the Tele-immerson Lab at University of California, Berkeley, the USA (Fig. 4), include human-robot co-operation, human activity recognition from multi-modal data, development of individualised musculo-skeletal models, quantification of human performance, remote monitoring in health care and its privacy and security considerations, and modelling of driver interaction in semi-autonomous vehicles. The lab supports research in 3D stereo reconstruction, tele-immersion, motion capturing, remote monitoring and human-movement analysis.

The tele-immersion apparatus with 48 cameras has been developed to capture 3D data of users with accuracy of about 1cm to 2cm. Cameras are linked to 12 servers that process the stereo reconstruction algorithm, allowing full-body 3D reconstruction of user(s). Some applications that the lab is presently concentrating on include collaborative work on 3D data sets, such as medical (MRI, 3D X-ray), geo-scientific collaboration, collaborative design in CAD modelling, collaborative archaeology and remote teaching of physical activities/skills (such as in rehabilitation and dance performance).

In collaborative work. Tele-immersion will enable groups of engineers to work closely together across great distances on computerised designs, for say, developing innovative equipment (Fig. 5).

Fig. 5: A collaborative design tele-immersion session in progess (Source: www.dvetelepresence.com)
Fig. 5: A collaborative design tele-immersion session in progess (Source: www.dvetelepresence.com)

While different teams of engineers might be thousands of kilometres away, they would be able to work together on the same project as if they were sitting together on the same workbench.

Archaeologists from around the globe will have the same sort of experience during a critical excavation. Rarefied experts in building inspection or engine repair will be able to visit various sites without incurring time and money expenditure on air travel. Similarly, collaboration will be possible while working on mechanical CAD. A team of designers will be able to work in partnership from remote sites in an interactive design process. They will be able to influence a virtual model, right from the conceptual to the production stage.

What the future holds
One of the current research areas is how to make tele-immersion more natural, perhaps by doing away with the headgear and glasses. Efforts are on for making the tele-immersion experience possible by simply entering a tele-cubicle. One solution is to use a screen that transmits diverse information to each eye, using swivelling pixels that track either left or right eye.

Another probability is to turn the entire tele-immerion room onto a screen. Walls, chairs, roof, etc could be coated with special light-sensitive material. A camera would photograph surfaces, computers would calculate their shapes in 3D and projectors would screen pre-warped images, making it appear as if these filled the room.

In years to come, perhaps one of your office walls will sparkle and your teammate will be sitting right in front of you, as if in person. On the other side, your teammate will enjoy the same experience. This possibility will make air travel quite rare. This is definitely going to have a favourable impact on our environment too with less greenhouse gas emission, which will make this planet a better place to live on.

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