Beam me up Larry: Scaling holograms for enterprise
The year is 2022. Ukraine is at war and its President has beamed in as a hologram to tech conferences around Europe to call for support from the industry.
Not a sci-fi movie but a bewildering reality, President Volodymyr Zelensky recently appeared as a hologram at seven major European tech conferences in June, all thanks to hologram firm ARHT Media.
Back in 2019, ARHT sold its capture and display technology to a client in Ukraine to be exhibited at a Science Centre in Kyiv, “and the very first person they did a hologram of was President Zelensky”, explains ARHT Media’s CEO Larry O’Reilly.
So, when the Founders Forum, an annual invite-only tech event, approached ARHT to ask if they could beam Zelensky in for the 2022 occasion in June, they were more than ready.
“Yeah, we can do that, we even have a crew [in Ukraine] that you can use to do the capture part,” O’Reilly recalled telling them.
“Then they came back and said, there are other tech conferences going on at the same time in Stockholm, Paris, and Amsterdam, could you beam him over there at the same time? We said, sure.”
And so, in a surprise “appearance” at seven European conferences simultaneously, Zelensky made his speech to 200,000 of Europe’s top tech entrepreneurs, investors, and leaders: “Ukraine is a chance for a global digital revolution. A chance for every technology company and a chance for every visionary to show their value, skills, technologies, and ambitions,” echoed Zelensky’s voice throughout the European continent.
Not only did the Ukrainian leader make an appearance at these events from Kyiv, but Hillary Clinton beamed in from New York, alongside leaders from companies like McKinsey Consulting, all using ARHT Media’s holographic technology.
Beaming in live
“Typically, we capture people on a green screen, and we capture in 4K video,” explained O’Reilly on how the technology is used live.
“We take the video and sound and in what we call our ARHT Engine,” which is what ARHT Media calls its server, “we encrypt it, we compress it, we send it over the internet and we play it back in point three seconds or less”.
Whilst viewers of the hologram get a live stream of the person through one of ARHT’s displays (such as the CAPSULE or the HoloPod), the person being beamed in, on the capture side, gets a live stream of the viewers through cameras and microphones on the display side.
“So, if you are a presenter, immediately below the 4K camera there’s a large monitor, and that is the audience feed. So, if the presenter is looking at the audience, they’re looking right into the camera.”
“When we have our angles correct in recording, then we actually can create an eye contact between the presenter and the audience that they are looking to address, which is really important in creating the illusion,” of the hologram explains Larry O’Reilly.
Larry O’Reilly took over as CEO at ARHT Media after being introduced to the hologram technology during his career as president of worldwide sales at the IMAX Corporation.
“I was on my way to Barcelona to a movie conference, and I stopped in Toronto, and they beamed somebody in live from Los Angeles. And I just couldn’t believe it.”
“I came back from Barcelona, and wrote a new business plan as a consultant to the company, and then the owner said, would you come in as CEO?”
Historically, the company used a large screen hologram technology system, HoloPresence, at business events, working with public speakers such as authors Tony Robbins and Deepak Chopra, as well as scientist Dr. Stephen Hawking. The company “would put on an arena show…and [the speakers] wouldn’t even have to travel to actually produce the show”.
“Whereas in my role as the president of worldwide sales at IMAX, every Sunday night or Monday morning, I was getting on a plane and flying somewhere to meet with potential clients and I was thinking, wow, if I had this technology, I wouldn’t have had to go to China 12 times in the last year.”
HoloPresence still required on-the-ground support however – typically involving a greenscreen, 4K cameras and specially trained operators to use the complex software – although O’Reilly has been working on ways to scale the technology and make it more user friendly.
According to O’Reilly, this has involved looking at ways to reduce the display size, simplifying the software to make it more user-friendly and producing training programmes so that third-party operators are able to use the technology out of the box, without having to fly people to other countries.
The result of these efforts is a holographic plug-and-play technology named CAPSULE. ARHT claims the tech can beam in live hologram presenters, like Zelensky, as well as play pre-recorded content that viewers can choose using a touch screen.
Holograms in the workplace
Currently, the plan is for enterprises to be able to use the technology during meetings that they wouldn’t be able to otherwise attend and use it “as a better form of digital communication”.
In a separate development to help scale, last year the company partnered with coworking space firm WeWork to integrate ARHT’s HoloPresence technology into 30 of WeWork’s locations globally.
The tech enables users in WeWork’s offices to record and stream events where they can appear live on one of ARHT’s displays. This service is currently available in six US offices, two UK sites – plus additional WeWorks in Singapore, France as well as in its native Canada.
Currently, “by far our biggest vertical that we have is in the healthcare space,” says O’Reilly. “The big pharmaceutical firms use us to have their subject matter experts and the research scientists educate doctors on their vaccines, or on their medicines, medical equipment, or medical procedures.”
Recently, ARHT Media did an event for pharmaceutical company Allergan in Munich.
“We had a surgeon, and he had different forms of skin and they were using different serums to do facial surgery,” whilst a group of doctors watched, “but the person instructing was in California,” he explained.
Financial services also use its holograms to sell and market their products as well as educate their clients: “this way, you have access to the top trainers anywhere in the world, and they train them as if they’re in the room with them with full two-way communication.”
“We also have a growing list of universities that are using the technology to bring guest lecturers to bring special speakers in.”
And, of course, the CAPSULE is also making movements in the entertainment space, with plans to launch the technology in cinema lobbies for consumer use and to allow fans to take selfies with the stars.
Fashion houses have also used the larger display screens as a part of their catwalk shows and then went on to use the smaller display technology within their boutiques.
“We believe there’s a huge potential for rollout,” O’Reilly enthuses. When one company tries it “they’re back and they’re back again”.
“It’s not only better than video, but it’s actually better than being there in person,” he says, citing data that they’ve collected from their clients.
“We had the world’s biggest asset manager, who uses us often to do client presentations,” O’Reilly explains. “Typically, they’ll have four or five people who will present in person, and one or two present holographically,” and all the presenters are evaluated.
According to O’Reilly, the people who present holographically always score higher than the people who are there in person. They also score higher holographically than when they themselves are there in person, something that O’Reilly claims to be consistent with feedback it’s had from pharmaceutical clients as well.
This is because “there’s a little bit of a wow factor, obviously,” he says, “and you have the audience pay attention more to the message you’re trying to convey.”
ARHT has also had positive feedback from presenters using it from the capture side, such as former US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice who used the technology from San Francisco in an hour-long panel in New York. O’Reilly quotes her saying that “technology works best when it fades into the background, and you don’t notice it’s there”.
“We were about a minute into our discussion, and we forgot that we weren’t in New York and that we were holograms. We just felt like we were in the room, because we had the audience reaction, and we were interacting with the audience and one another as if we were there.”
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