The next time you see a hologram, it might have nothing to do with attacking Klingon warships or newly discovered Jedi lightsabers — it could very well be a hologram of your boss demanding to know why your latest TPS report is late.
Long a mainstay of science fiction franchises like “Star Trek” and “Star Wars,” holograms may soon become a reality in the boardroom, thanks to the pandemic-led explosion of virtual meetings.
Hoping to replace the reality of teleconferencing today — flat images on a computer screen, people talking over each other, and awkward pauses — tech companies are hoping to revolutionize the way we work by using holograms as the next best thing to actually being there, from readable body language to the kind of seminars that actually keep attendees awake and at attention.
The companies making waves with holographic technology
Big names are already getting into the holographic mix. The commercial real-estate company WeWork in May announced a partnership with ARHT Media Inc., which specializes in hologram technology. Though its core business was shared physical workspaces, WeWork used the pandemic to reinvent itself as a provider of flexible shared workspaces for technology startups and other enterprises. In April, WeWork Chief Product and Experience Officer Hamid Hashemi used holographic technology to speak to a company-wide meeting. They now plan to bring holographic technology to 16 WeWork locations across the globe.
Even Google is getting in on the new technology, starting Project Starline to provide three-dimensional depth to its virtual meetings. Not to be outdone, Microsoft recently announced Microsoft Mesh, which also uses three-dimensional tech to enhance its teleconferencing products.
As anyone who’s ever landed — or nixed — a business deal, it’s hard to put a price on the ability to read body language. Tech companies that have invested in hologram technology hope that’ll be a key selling point for holographic upgrades. They also hope people will start becoming the standard in live and prerecorded seminars, training sessions, and entertainment events.
Holograms represent physical objects but they can also safely store information. Holographic prototypes have been able to store 4.4 million individual pages of information on a disk that offers more security than traditional databases.
Holograms offer a lot of benefits well outside the office, too. A company in Scotland is using holograms to train medical students to give them a better sense of the human body, allowing students to manipulate the hologram to examine individual body parts in more detail. The military has been testing out holographic tech and hopes to use it to help strategize with three-dimensional views of terrain and to peer around potentially deadly corners.
What this technology will cost your organization
Holograms aren’t cheap, though. A hologram unit cost about $2,500, while multiple simultaneous hologram projectors start around $25,000. And critics say holographic technology will only add unnecessary technology hiccups to office meetings.
Space may also be an issue. The single HoloPod display from AHRT Media is an 8-foot-tall screen requiring a projector, camera, and microphone. The company Portal relies on a 7-foot-tall booth onto which to project holograms.