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Norm Jouppi:
Face-to-Face While Far Away

HP Fellow's Technology Lets You Be in Two Places at the Same Time

February 2003

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"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 at all.

To make BiReality work, Jouppi and his team have created what they call a surrogate, a machine that does the traveling for you.

I'd seen people doing virtual reality, trying to make immersive fake worlds. 
						I wanted to make an immersive depiction of the real world.

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 height.

Beats videoconferencing

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.

"Business travel is time-consuming, expensive and a hassle," says Jouppi. "Then there are environmental considerations -- each cross-country flight produces tons of carbon dioxide."

Model 1 Surrogate

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 cues."

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 idea."

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 real world."

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.

Patents pending

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

News and Events

» Norm Jouppi's Bio
» Mobile & Media
Systems Lab
» See a BiReality demo
» First Steps Towards Mutually-Immersive Mobile Telepresence
(paper, pdf format)
» Mutually-Immersive Audio Telepresence
(paper, pdf format)
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 Norm Jouppi and April Slayden with Model 1 Surrogate
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