Google will soon test Project Starline video chat booths in the real world

Google’s elaborate video chat booths will soon exist as more than just a clever design exercise. Ars Technica reports that the company will begin installing Project Starline prototypes in the offices of some of its business partners for “regular” testing later this year. In other words, Google will see how its “magic windows” work outside of campus demos.

Program partners include Salesforce, T-Mobile, and WeWork. More than 100 companies were present at the internal demos, spanning healthcare, media and retailers.

Project Starline is basically an attempt to create a natural-feeling telepresence system. Each participant sits in a booth with an array of cameras and infrared projectors that create a realistic 3D image, with spatial audio recording making it appear as if the voice is coming out of that digital persona’s mouth. Combined with head tracking and a 65-inch, 8K glasses-free display, the system makes it seem like the other person is sitting in front of you. This theoretically leads to more effortless meetings than you would get from staring at a computer screen with a webcam.

The question, of course, is whether the early access program will lead to installations in your employer’s boardroom or local retail store. While Google hasn’t outlined the cost of a Project Starline booth, the technology is inherently expensive and takes up a lot of space. Smaller companies have a hard time justifying this when off-the-shelf computers can be good enough. The timing isn’t ideal either. While remote and hybrid work has boomed, Starline is emerging as more people feel comfortable returning to face-to-face interaction. The audience for the technology isn’t nearly as big as it was a year ago, and we wouldn’t count on it getting any bigger.

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