Researchers at Queen’s University’s Human Media Lab have designed the world’s first holographic display drone with the LightBee, which allows people to project images of themselves from remote locations, and mimics their head movements while in flight. Think of it like a holographic telepresence robot that’s able to follow you anywhere.
“Virtual Reality allows avatars to appear elsewhere in 3D, but they are not physical and cannot move through the physical space. Teleconferencing robots alleviate this issue, but cannot always traverse obstacles. With LightBee, we’re bringing actual holograms to physical robots that are not bound by gravity.” — Roel Vertegaal, HML Director
The platform works by using a series of 3D cameras to capture a person’s head and their movements from any location. At a different site, the cylindrical projection surface-equipped LightBee drone hovers and moves within a ring surrounded by 45 smart projectors (each rendering an image from a different angle) that produce a lightfield (or hologram) onto the drone’s screen, making the person’s head appear as a 3D image. Viewers can walk around the drone and see the projected person’s head from all sides at the same time as if that person was there themselves.
Markers positioned on top of the drone enable it to be tracked by a series of motion-capture cameras, while a Kinect captures the head movements from the user at the remote location. This part of the setup lets the drone mirror the actions of the user’s head- turning it side to side/ up and down. A pair of cameras mounted to the front of the drone, allowing the remote users to see those looking at the drone using two separate displays.
While they don’t mention it in the press release, there must be some verbal communication system in place as well, whether it be through a phone, or more likely, through an internet connection, which makes me wonder if there is a noticeable lag between verbal and visual communication. They also have a problem with propeller noise emanating from the drone; however, the researchers state it might be mitigated using ultrasonic propeller tech in future revisions.