Manchester Airport Hires ‘Holograms’ (video)

Rear projections at Manchester Airport
Meet John and John. Which is the 'hologram'? (I'm guessing the one with the fake smile.)

Visitors to Manchester Airport may be a little startled when they meet customer service reps John and Julie – these newest additions to the staff are ‘holograms’. Created by UK based Musion, the EyeSay displays use powerful projectors to create a lifelike image on a transparent surface. By cutting that surface into the shape of people, Musion has created ‘holograms’ that appear to be 3D physical characters. The EyeSay displays play video recordings based on two of Manchester Airport’s actual staff, John Walsh and Julie Capper, and provide automated audio reminders about liquid restrictions and boarding passes. They are currently on display in Manchester Airport’s Terminal 1, and should help give their human counterparts time to handle more important tasks. Watch the EyeSay ‘holograms’ in action in the video below. I get the feeling I’m looking at the 21st century equivalent of cardboard cut-outs.

I know many of you will point this out if I don’t say it first: Musion’s EyeSay displays aren’t real holograms. They are simply lifelike rear projections on a well made surface that tricks your eye into accepting it as a three dimensional image. (You can clearly see the lens flare from the projector in the center of the video above at 0:21.) That’s okay, for this purpose we don’t need real holograms. As we’ve seen in previous coverage of Musion, these faux ‘holograms’ are sophisticated enough to give viewers the sense that they are sharing their space with a real 3D person.

Manchester is very proud to be the first airport to use these kinds of ‘holograms’ in their facilities, so it’s hard to separate out the hype when judging how useful the displays actually are. Certainly they provide an eyecatching image that visitors may pay more attention to than they would to a simple audio recording. Because the John and Julie-grams can be replicated as many times as needed, they may also be freeing up a considerable number of workers from having to mindlessly repeat notifications to airport visitors. That being said, neon signs were once cutting edge technology as well, but I can’t tell you the last time I really paid attention to one. The EyeSays may have an edge over the boring posters that inhabit airports today, but give travelers a few years to get used to the idea and I’m sure they’ll ignore them too.

Rear projections at Manchester Airport - Julie
Here's Julie Capper, the second of the models for the Manchester EyeSays. If I'd been immortalized as a 'hologram' I'd be pretty smug too.

Which isn’t to say the concept itself doesn’t have a future. Far from it. Musion’s invasion of the Manchester Airport is another sign that lifelike virtual projections are a growing force in digital displays. Musion markets them as accessories for tele-conference presentations, but they have a huge range of applications. We’ve seen a very similar concept help a Japanese teen go from virtual character to real world rock star. You could use rear projections almost anywhere you use regular video advertisements (billboards, shops, etc). All you need is enough space to separate the projector from the display surface.

Eventually we’ll probably see a switch from rear projections to actual holograms and other 3D technologies that don’t have as great of spatial requirements. We’ve already seen some early holographic video displays that are promising. Needless to say it would also be wonderful when we will be able to make these technologies interactive as well. Devices like the Musion EyeSay (or its holographic betters) may one day provide the means for us to communicate with virtual characters in a way that we find engaging. Why just listen to a hologram when you can talk to it and ask it questions? That’s when things will get really exciting. Of course, asking a hologram about its personal life can be a strange experience. We should tread carefully.

[image and video credits: Manchester Airport]
[sources: Manchester Airport, Musion]

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