Skype Meets VR with Room2Room

Skype Meets VR with Room2Room
Microsoft’s research arm is working on a new augmented reality project that could change video chatting.

Dubbed Room2Room, the new system projects a person into a room as a 3D hologram, allowing users to video chat as if they were in the same room. The team is using Kinect cameras and projectors to capture and project the participants. The idea behind the augmented reality project is to make users feel like they’re hanging out together, rather than being alone in their own homes or offices, and to make communication more natural. To make Room2Room work, the Microsoft researchers used technology from an existing gaming project called RoomAlive. The existing project uses the Kinect depth-sensing camera and digital projectors to create an augmented reality gaming arena.

"Quantitative results suggest that, predictably, face-to-face communication is superior in terms of task completion time, sense of presence, and efficiency of communication," the researchers note in the paper, Enabling Life-Size Telepresence in a Projected Augmented Reality Environment, which will be presented at the Computer-Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing conference in San Francisco next month. In a test, seven pairs of participants attempted to guide each other through a puzzle. When the pair was face-to-face, the puzzle took about four minutes to complete while Room2Room participants solved it in about seven minutes. With the more simple Skype video chat, it took participants roughly nine minutes to complete the puzzle. "…Using our system instead of Skype led to significant improvements in task completion time, suggesting that our system makes spatially situated tasks easier to perform," added the researchers, noting that participants found their partners "significantly more present" using Room2Room over Skype. Room2Room is still too bulky and low-resolution for mainstream use, but it is a step toward the future of video calls and, with the help of VR headsets, may not be far off.

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