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 the company will start installing Project Starline prototypes in some of its corporate partners’ offices for “regular” tests later this year. In other words, Google will see how its “magic windows” work beyond on-campus demos.

Program partners include Salesforce, T-Mobile and WeWork, among others. The in-house demos have included over 100 companies spread across healthcare, media and retailers.

Project Starline is effectively a bid 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 depiction, with spatial audio capture making it seem as if the voice is coming from that digital persona’s mouth. Combined with head tracking and a 65-inch, 8K glasses-free display, the system makes it seem as if the other person is sitting in front of you. This theoretically leads to more effortless meetings than you’d get by staring at a computer monitor with a webcam.

The question, of course, is whether or not the early access program will lead to installations at your employer’s boardroom or the local store. While Google hasn’t outlined the cost of a Project Starline booth, the technology is inherently expensive and consumes a lot of space. Smaller businesses might have trouble justifying this when off-the-shelf computers may be good enough. The timing is also less than ideal. While remote and hybrid work have taken off, Starline is coming right as more people are comfortable returning to in-person interaction. The audience for the tech isn’t nearly as large as it might have been a year ago, and we wouldn’t count on it getting bigger.

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