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Holographic 3D Video: Taking Collaboration to a New Level
One of the most memorable scenes in the first Star Wars movie is a holographic projection of Princess Leia pleading for Obi-Wan Kenobi to help a fledgling resistance movement fight against an evil empire. This projection has remained forever transfixed in our minds because both the messenger and the holographic mechanism for delivering the message are so compelling.
Over the years, I have often wondered how one could develop a more engaging video communications mechanism in which there is a real three-dimensional quality to a video meeting, giving the images of people at the far-side both depth and volume. Some techniques for doing this have been tried, including deploying multiple cameras separated by specific distances and the use of LiDAR cameras, which use various light spectrums to map out the environment they “see.”
Hence, I was intrigued when I was contacted by a startup company called IKIN that may one day make 3D visual communications commonplace. What makes IKIN unique is its holographic technology that allows developers and content providers to manipulate traditional 2D images into holographic 3D images that display in ambient lighting conditions.
Introducing the IKIN RYZ System
Developing holographic images has traditionally been expensive, difficult, and time-consuming. IKIN CTO, Taylor Scott, began experimenting with some of this technology as a teenager going so far as to create patents around changing the molecular density of polymers in motion. Since then, he has created optical systems based on his unique polymer designs and technology for some big on-stage experiences that use holograms to create tremendous emotional impact. He and his IKIN colleagues are now focusing on bringing some of these ideas to broader markets that will include retail, architecture, sports, hospitality, gaming, and communications.
IKIN has created a technology bundle, branded RYZ (pronounced like the word rise [r¬īz]), that will make creating holographic 3D images much easier. RYZ has three basic elements:
- The RYZ Accessory — This accessory is essentially two pieces of specially-coated glass used to project the holographic images.
- The RYZ Framework — The RYZ framework is a set of APIs and an SDK that developers and content creators can use to transform regular 2D images into 3D holographic images. The goal IKIN has for the RYZ Framework is to enable ordinary content developers with no holographic development experience to create beautiful and engaging holographic images using the existing tools and environments they currently use for developing graphic content. The RYZ Framework provides the tools for doing 2D to 3D transformations using the proprietary IKIN technology. A part of this technology is called neuro-adaptive AI, which is a series of neural networks that 2D images are “pushed through” to transform them into 3D images.
- The RYZ Application — The RYZ application is required on the end device to take the 3D holographic image data and project it onto the RYZ Accessory.
One of the differences with the RYZ Accessory is that it uses a scalar lens technology that allows holographic images to be displayed in normal lighting conditions; most holographs do not display well in ambient light.
To make this more concrete, consider IKIN’s first target platform: the mobile device. IKIN is developing the RYZ system for mobile devices with general availability targeted for this fall. Essentially, the accessory consists of two parts: a battery that attaches to the back of the mobile phone using magnets and a dual-pane display that attaches to the battery, also using magnets. This external battery powers both the mobile device and RYZ accessory, giving approximately 14 hours of viewing time.
The RYZ Accessory will look like the image below. Note that the mobile device is unchanged, but the RYZ Appliance is visible as sort of a second window to view holographic content.
To make this more concrete, consider the two images below taken from a video on IKIN’s home page. In the image on the left, the RYZ accessory is above the mobile phone. In the image on the left, the RYZ Appliance is situated to the left.
Note that these images can be manipulated by hand gestures, similar to the way one sees holographic images manipulated in popular movies, like Iron Man or Minority Report.
IKIN claims that its holographic images can be rendered in real-time using the processing power on a smart phone. When combined with 4G or 5G data networks to provide sufficient bandwidth, IKIN is able to demonstrate some very compelling 3D holographic use cases.
How Would IKIN RYZ Work with Video Communications?
To become part of a video communications platform, a video communications provider would need to license the IKIN SDK and embed it into its video endpoint software. In addition, the end user device would need to have holographic screens, RYZ Accessories, as opposed to the standard pane of glass found in most desktop and wall-mounted displays. These are the two changes that would be necessary.
IKIN has assured KelCor that existing 4k camera technology is sufficient.
The solution would be most effective when everyone is remote and joins a video meeting individually as opposed to people sitting together in a conference room. Initially, a person’s 3D motion and imagery would be transmitted based on predictive rendering. The RYZ software will get better over time and will display a person's holographic image based on a profile that IKIN has created. This profile includes hand gestures, head movements, etc. Over time, with the generated profile, RYZ would render a person and their environment more lifelike.
For conference room scenarios, the video devices would need additional processing to handle the intensive image manipulation required by the neural networks due to there being more people in the image. Building a profile in this setting would not be applicable since the people in the conference room would be continually changing. Today, Cisco’s solutions with embedded Nvidia GPUs could do this processing, but for other solutions, it would be a stretch without some dedicated matrix manipulation hardware for the Neuro-Adaptive AI rendering.
IKIN’s GoTo Market
IKIN has a full management team in place, lead by former Inter-Tel, Mitel, Vertical, and ShoreTel executive Joe Ward. Ward has added other industry veterans to the team. Presently, IKIN is seeking investment, content development, and distribution capability. The company has three strategic paths to market:
- Working with independent software vendors, IKIN is creating B2B applications that benefit from immersive 3D and holographic technology.
- Mobile operators seeking ways to generate improved returns on their 5G network investments can use IKIN’s technology to provide rich, holographic content to leverage these high-bandwidth networks.
- B2C opportunities with companies that will leverage the RYZ accessory to provide compelling 3D experiences for shopping, viewing real estate, experiencing sporting events, and booking hospitality venues. The customers of these companies will get the RYZ Appliance and the App. In addition to what the company provides, IKIN’s solution will allow consumers to manipulate the video and photos on their smartphones into 3D holographic images and content.
Beyond the mobile device, other form factors are on the roadmap. IKIN is also creating a platform as a service and will offer a revenue sharing model for early adopter customers.
I’ve not used IKIN’s technology personally — I’ve just experienced some compelling demos and seen some videos. However, if IKIN and its partners can bring this technology to market in an affordable fashion, we may be only months away from being able to do some highly compelling 3D video communications.
Taylor Scott, CTO at IKIN, summed it up this way when he said, “I have an obsessive sense of the emotional impact holographic images can generate in people.” In fact, when discussing this impact, Scott refers to the “emotional engagement per frame.” If our industry can increase the emotional impact in each frame of the video we are now all experiencing due to COVID-19, and the work-from-home changes most of us are going through, this technology from IKIN may prove to be transformational for all of us.