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LightBee: Holographic drone projects Princess Leia in mid-air

This week, Associate Professor Tim Merritt from AAU and his collaborators from the Human Media Lab at Queen’s University in Canada will unveil LightBee – the world’s first holographic drone display. The display allows people to project themselves into another location as a flying hologram – much like Princess Leia from the Star Wars movies.

Last modified: 08.05.2019

With the LightBee display, teleconferencing will be taken to a new level. Unlike traditional video-conference or VR technologies, the new display lets people at remote locations gain an actual physical presence in the room by using a drone that mimics their head movements in 3D.

“Virtual Reality allows avatars to appear elsewhere in 3D, but they are not physical and cannot move through the physical space. Teleconferencing robots alleviate this issue, but cannot always traverse obstacles. With LightBee, we're bringing actual holograms to physical robots that are not bound by gravity,” says Roel Vertegaal, Director of the Human Media Lab. 

(Note that the flicker in the video is due to the interaction of the camera shutter with the 45 projector shutters, and is not visible to users)​

With LightBee, a person’s head and head movements are captured using 3D video cameras. In the remote space, a drone with a cylindrical projection surface flies within a ring of 45 smart projectors. A lightfield, or hologram, is projected onto the retroreflective surface of the drone, making the head appear in 3D as if existing inside the drone. The hologram can be walked around and viewed from all sides simultaneously by multiple users in the remote space - much like Star Wars’ Princess Leia, or the LightBee hologram in the British Sci-Fi show “Red Dwarf”, after which the system was named. 

More efficient long-distance meetings

In this way, LightBee physically teleports 3D images of a human head from one place to another, while giving the person the ability to move and look around in the remote 3D space. Because the drone projects a light field with one image for every degree of angle, remote viewers of the drone need not wear a headset or 3D glasses to experience the other person in full 3D augmented reality. 

 “Face-to-face interaction transfers an immense amount of non-verbal information. This information is lost in online tools. Users miss the proxemics, gestures, facial expressions, and eye contact that bring nuance and emotion to a conversation. LightBee injects these missing elements into long-distance conversations with a realism that cannot be achieved with a Skype or Facetime video chat,” says Roel Vertegaal. 

The researchers hope that LightBee may become a valuable tool in professional meetings, but also in more frivolous applications. 

“LightBee allows users to experience social proxemics and a physical presence of the other person that seems more real. This eases multiparty turntaking as well as the effectiveness of a meeting. In addition, we also imagine that LightBee may be used at events such as large music festivals where a DJ can appear simultaneously in multiple places around a stadium as a flying hologram,” says Tim Merritt, Associate Professor at the Department of Computer Science at Aalborg University. 

Tim Merrit and his research partners developed the drone hologram in 2018 while he was visiting professor at the Human Media Lab. He and Roel Vertegaal will unveil the new technology jointly to the general public at the ACM CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, the premier international conference on Human-Computer Interaction, in Glasgow, United Kingdom on May 9th, 2019.

High resolution photographs are available rights-free at the Human Media Lab project page http://www.humanmedialab.org/lightbee


Tim Merritt, Associate Professor at Human-Centered Computing, Department of Computer Science, Aalborg University. merritt@cs.aau.dk, tel. +45 4244 2899.