Tired of Zoom calls? Company offers at-home hologram machines

By Rollo Ross

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Looking for a new way to communicate during the pandemic? A Los Angeles company has created phone booth-sized machines to beam live holograms into your living room.

The device made by PORTL Inc lets users talk in real time with a life-sized hologram of another person.

The machines also can be equipped with technology to enable interaction with recorded holograms of historical figures or relatives who have passed away.

Each PORTL device is seven feet (2.1m) tall, five feet (1.5m) wide and two feet (0.6m) deep, and can be plugged into a standard wall outlet. Anyone with a camera and a white background can send a hologram to the machine in what Chief Executive David Nussbaum calls “holoportation.”

“We say if you can’t be there, you can beam there,” said Nussbaum, who previously worked at a company that developed a hologram of Ronald Reagan for the former president’s library and digitally resurrected rapper Tupac Shakur.

“We are able to connect military families that haven’t seen each other in months, people from opposite coasts,” or anyone who is social distancing to fight the coronavirus, Nussbaum added.

Prices for the machine start at $60,000, a cost that Nussbaum expects will drop over the next three to five years. The company also plans a smaller tabletop device with a lower price tag early next year.

The devices can be equipped with artificial intelligence technology from Los Angeles-based company StoryFile to produce hologram recordings that can be archived. Adding that to the current device brings the cost to at least $85,000.

The companies are promoting to museums, which could let visitors question a hologram of a historical figure, and to families to record information for future generations.

People can feel like they are having a conversation with a recorded hologram, said StoryFile Chief Executive Heather Smith.

“(You) feel their presence, see their body language, see all their non-verbal cues,” she said. “You feel like you’ve actually talked to that individual even though they were not there.”

(Reporting by Rollo Ross; Additional reporting and writing by Lisa Richwine; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)

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