"In the future we'll only travel when we want to and not when we
need to," says HP Fellow Norm Jouppi. Jouppi, who last year joined
HP Labs from Compaq's Western Research Lab, is playing a major part
in making that future a reality.
Working in HP Labs' Mobile and Media Systems, Jouppi and his team
of researchers have created what they call Mutually-Immersive Mobile
Telepresence -- BiReality, for short.
Put at its simplest, BiReality allows you to be in two places at
the same time. Imagine being in a meeting, seeing and hearing everyone
there clearly and life-sized -- and yet being a thousand miles away
in your office. That's BiReality.
Robot is your stand-in
Jouppi's technology is about giving you (and the people you are
visiting) the sense that you are really present in that remote place,
to the point that you can catch the eye of someone in the room,
or even whisper an aside to them. without you having to be there
To make BiReality work, Jouppi and his team have created what they
call a surrogate, a machine that does the traveling for you.
This robot-like device can go anywhere that a wheelchair can. It
carries sets of cameras and microphones that give a 360-degree audio
and video view of its surroundings, displaying your head on four
flat panel displays. The displays can be at either sitting or standing
While BiReality stands in for you, you sit back in a room at your
office and move the surrogate around with a computer game-style
joystick. The room contains projectors that display a 360-degree
view of the remote location on screens all around you. Coupled with
near-perfect 360-degree sound reproduction, you have the sense of
really being in that far-off place.
Videoconferencing , the current best alternative to traveling for
a meeting, leaves much to be desired. As anyone who has used videoconferencing
will attest, the person you see in the small, jittery picture on
the screen in one corner of the room hardly seems a real participant
in the meeting. It's even worse for the person on the remote end,
who often can't see or hear the proceedings well enough to participate.
Almost like being there
With BiReality, says Jouppi, "everything's presented life-size. We
preserve colors accurately. We not only preserve eye contact, but
we preserve gaze. So I can tell what you are looking at when you're
not looking at me. I can tell if you are looking at your notes or
if you're looking at the clock and all those things are important
All this adds up to what Jouppi calls an immersive environment.
Given the awfulness of videoconferencing, and the time and money
that most businesses spend on travel every year, it's surprising
that few others are working to create immersive environments.
"It's kind of obvious when you think about it in retrospect,"
reflects Jouppi. But perhaps that's what defines a really good new
Virtual reality for the office
The idea that became BiReality came out of Jouppi's own unsatisfying
experiences with videoconferencing. While working on a new graphics
accelerator chip, he had used early videoconferencing hardware.
At first, he recalls, "it was just a source of humor, as opposed
to actually being useful."
But the experience got him thinking. "I'd seen a lot of people
doing virtual reality, trying to make immersive fake worlds," he
says. "I was interested in making an immersive depiction of the
Jouppi had already made a name for himself in microprocessor and
graphics chip architecture -- he was recently named a Fellow of
the IEEE for his contributions to the design and analysis of high-performance
processors and memory systems -- when he began looking for new challenges.
And although the dawn of a commercial version of the BiReality system
is still some years off, Jouppi and his team have a string of patent
applications pending for their work in Mutually-Immersive Telepresence.
Having been part of a much smaller research presence at Compaq
(as part of a research lab that Compaq inherited from Digital Equipment
Corporation), Jouppi's happy to have found a home at HP Labs.
"It's exciting to be part of a place where they have 'invent'
a part of the corporate logo," he says. "Innovation is always exciting."
by Simon Firth