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September 23, 2009

Lights, Camera, Telepresence: Films Feature Technology's Potential Future

By Amy Tierney, TMCnet Web Editor


When it comes to telepresence, more often than not, images of men and women talking and sharing documents in a meeting often comes to mind. That’s the typical scenario for the business world. Beyond the corporate setting, telepresence solutions are being deployed at sea and in classroom environments.
 
Even Hollywood has taken a recent interest in the technology. Telepresence (News - Alert) solutions have largely been depicted in the movies as nothing more than fantasy and are pitched for their entertainment value of “what could be.” Things like volumetric projections, or the holographic versions of Yoda as depicted in “Star Wars,” while interesting, aren’t viable for common use.
 
But industry officials say advances in technology are helping some enterprises come close to the telepresence technology shown on the big screen. Movies are fueling the inspiration for the dawning of telepresence, and what continues to set standards for what people envision for the future Bob McCandless, CEO of BrightCom, a videoconferencing and telepresence solutions provider, told TMCnet in an interview.
 
“When you look at the growth of telepresence in television and film over the last five years, it’s become much more commonplace,” McCandless said. “It does have a profound impact on what customers expect, and drives the industry overall.”
 
For instance, in the Sci-Fi film “Surrogates,” which hits theaters Sept. 25, Bruce Willis stars as a police officer who lives in a future where everyone uses a remote controlled android called a surrogate. “Surrogates,” which takes place in the year 2054, shows people staying at home and sending out android versions of themselves into the world. In the film, shown below, people sit in a chair and project themselves into a machine. The machine then projects a real-life image of the person using the technology.
 
When several people are murdered when their surrogates are destroyed, a police officer investigates the crimes through his own surrogate. But after a near fatal encounter, the cop must bring his human form out of isolation and solve the conspiracy behind the crimes.
 
It's the ultimate form of telepresence, blurring the line between real and simulated events. And it’s one that may not necessarily be too far off, McCandless said.
 
“A lot of companies have much invested in telerobotics,” McCandless said. “We have considered entering the market several times. Right now, we are investing in and building prototypes for  commercial uses.”
 
That form of telepresence, for instance, could be useful in hazardous environments such as construction, exploration and defense, he said.
 
That’s not all. Last month, “Gamer” hit theaters, which tells the tale of gaming and entertainment evolved into a new hybrid. In the film, humans control other humans in multi-player online games. Mind-control technology is widespread, and at the heart of the controversial games is creator and billionaire Ken Castle. The latest shooter game "Slayers" lets people act out their worst fantasies online in front of a global audience, using real prisoners as avatars with whom they fight to the death.
 
McCandless said this use of telepresence and virtual reality is “potentially possible” as technology now lets users directly interact with the human brain.
 
“Hollywood is leading us down a path to direct images into the brain,” McCandless said. “As we cross that bridge, it will have a profound impact on how people perceive reality.”
 
And in December, the much anticipated film from James Cameron, pictured below at right, “Avatar” will debut. In the movie, humans place their consciousnesses inside giant blue bodies of alien hybrids on the planet Pandora (News - Alert).
 
"I think we all appreciate that that’s sort of where we are going as society where technologically we're trying to find ways to project consciousness into technology whether it’s a gaming universe, whether its second life type of universe, or whether we control remote control machines,” James Cameron said in during an interview with LA based radio show on KROQ. “We fight our wars by remote control, with unpiloted aerial vehicles. I've spent hundreds of hours flying vehicles underwater by remote control on the end of fiber optic tether. It’s the whole telepresence mentality and it’s going to be more pervasive as we go forward."
 
The telepresence concept depicted in “Avatar” is something BrightCom, in fact, is exploring, McCandless said. BrightCom already is one of the few companies in the industry that has presented virtually live objects with telepresence, he said.
 
“Movies are our shared way of contemplating potential futures,” McCandless said. “It gives us the ability to think about things and measures our fears. As Hollywood embraces these technologies, there is an undeniable relationship to people accepting it into their daily lives.”
 

Amy Tierney is a Web editor for TMCnet, covering unified communications, telepresence, IP communications industry trends and mobile technologies. To read more of Amy's articles, please visit her columnist page.

Edited by Amy Tierney



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