Ruzena Bajcsy (University of California, Berkeley) and Klara Nahrstedt (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) have provided the following argument for the development of broadband information-rich immersive interfaces, to support collaboration and research activities.
The United States of America has steadily fallen further and further behind Asian and European nations with respect to broadband penetration and related services. This is impeding the development of new consumer applications (and related new industry and services) and limiting communications in an economy where knowledge exchange is vital in order to be to be a major player of the emerging , seamless and unobstructed global market. Reversing this trend may be of high interest to the incoming administration, but the viability of extending broadband is dependent on the deployment of new high bandwidth and high value applications that (a) will justify the investments required and (b) will contribute digital solutions to many of the key societal problems in this Energy-Climate Era (as recently identified by Thomas L. Friedman in his book Hot, Flat and Crowded) such as growing demand for ever scarcer energy supplies and natural energy, rapid and accelerating biodiversity loss, and disruptive climate change.
In 1997, Jaron Lanier, at the time the chief scientist of Advanced Networks and Services, started the National Tele-Immersion Initiative, as a coalition of research universities studying advanced applications over Internet2. We never capitalized on this initiative in United States. Instead, virtually all major advances in the commercial design and development of 3D multimedia input and output devices such as 3D stereo cameras, 3D displays, integrated solutions for the next generation of home entertainment systems were undertaken abroad. If we look at the corporate landscape of multimedia technology and its integrated multimedia solutions, they come mostly from Asia (e.g., NEC, Panasonic, Sony, FXPal, Samsung) and Europe (e.g., Phillips, Thomson). Swift action is needed to ensure American universities and industries seize the academic and business leadership of the next generation of tele-immersive systems, the 4D Immersive Holographic Spaces.
4D Immersive Holographic Spaces will be joint multi-view multimedia-rich spaces where people can immerse themselves in their physical full body size into a joint cyber-physical space with other people, and execute physical activities (e.g., physiotherapy rehabilitation), walk around people and observe detailed full-body social behaviors and communication cues of people in real-time, as if they were co-located in the same room, even though they are geographically distributed and thousands of miles apart. The impact of such systems would be dramatic, contributing to the increase of innovative economic opportunities, to the “green energy” efforts, and to the decrease of gap between regions of “have” and “have-not” experts. With respect to innovation leadership, venture capitalists will for the first time be able to interact with entrepreneurs located thousands of miles away as if they were next door. Our nation’s ability to find and grow new and emerging high-technology high-quality job-creating companies would extend to all regions of America. In health care, new services based on these cutting edge information systems could be delivered to our rural areas. A physiotherapist based in Washington would be able to provide rehabilitation assistance to multiple remote patients after heart-attack in neighboring regions and a wheelchair basketball coach in Illinois could inspire and train wheelchair children in Montana to play the sport. The children of the men and women of our armed forces would be able to explore the Amazon forest with their parents in a virtual world or simply learn basic values from their parents by bringing them together in their (virtual) home. All of these scenarios are dependent on the ability of 4D Immersive Holographic Spaces to deliver rich visible social cues and multi-view capture of human/group behaviors.
America can lead in the area of broadband information-rich immersive spaces if major investments are made to develop and build national tele-immersive infrastructures. We can then ensure US companies deliver innovative applications and services solutions with our academic institutions as key partners in addressing the research and development challenges. Advances in real-time computer vision, real-time computer graphics, integration of speech, vision and tactile sensory information, dynamic and task-dependent signal compression, and broadband wired and wireless networking with advanced stream-based and multi-view distributed and operating systems and architectures will be needed for the future tele-immersive systems. It is imperative that we move boldly and commit ourselves to this effort.