Video calling, although seemingly infinitely better than voice calling, has its disadvantages. Sure, you can see the person, but they still aren’t there. In a way, it sort of raises more uncanny valley issues than traditional voice-only calling does and can make people seem artifically distant, stern, uninterested, and cold. Instead of throwing in the towel and going back to conference calls, researchers David Sirkin and Wendy Ju at Stanford University tried to make video calling a little more personal by giving the screen the ability to move with you, making you seem that much closer.
The device, an Apple iMac G4 fitted with actuators, picks up on the video caller’s movements — movements like leaning in, turning, pointing, nods, shakes, and even laughing — and maps them to the screen, making it move, turn, and jiggle along with you. The system is also outfitted with a robo-arm for pointing, and tapping on desks.
You might be asking yourself, “Sure, but won’t this just exacerbate the whole uncanny valley problem?” Not really, it seems. When the device was shown off at last month’s Human Robot Interaction conference in Boston, people had a generally positive reaction. According to the researchers, people using the device seemed “more friendly, less dominant and more involved” and that overall, the device “improved understanding of the messages that remote participants communicated.”
Granted, this kind of thing involves a good chunk of specialized hardware and probably faces some serious obstacles to being widely adopted. That said, it could seriously improve things for people who often find themselves telecommuting to meetings for one reason or another. It’s no substitute for in-person interaction, but it certainly does make video calling seem more like the step forward we all thought it would be, instead of some weird futuristic step backward into awkwardness.
Don’t believe it could really do that much? Check out the video below, it really ties things together. It’s especially interesting to note how awkward the screen movements look without matching movement on the screen, but how natural it looks when it’s all tied together. Very cool tech.
(via New Scientist)
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