Mar 1, 2022 - Technology

3D "holoportation" for the masses

Jennifer took a turn in the PORTL holoportation device.
Jennifer give the PORTL holoportation device a try. Photo: Clifford A. Sobel

A company called PORTL that lets you beam a lifelike, real-time image of yourself into its vending-machine-size box has introduced a lower-budget miniature version, potentially bringing video calls to American living rooms.

Why it matters: For consumers seeking better alternatives to Zoom and FaceTime, there's the PORTL M — or mini — a 2-foot-tall rectangular device that can receive a curiously intimate (if tiny) walking, talking image of a faraway loved one.

  • It'll also be good for gaming, fitness classes, telemedicine and displaying NFTs, its makers say.
  • The larger version, which is about 7 feet tall, won an innovation award at CES this year and has been "doing tons of rentals for trade shows and conventions, experiential events," says David Nussbaum, PORTL's CEO.
  • Glamorous engagements could include "holoporting" Super Bowl players into CBS Sports studios for live interviews.
David Nussbaum, CEO of PORTL, being beamed into his larger product — the PORTL Epic. 2 —  and showing off his newer, smaller one, the PORTL M.
David Nussbaum, CEO of PORTL, being beamed into his larger product — the PORTL Epic 2 —  and showing off his newer, smaller model, the PORTL M. Photo: Jennifer A. Kingson/Axios

For more quotidien uses, the larger PORTL, which costs around $100,000, has been snapped up by banks and other companies that want to use it for interoffice communications and as an alternative to business travel, Nussbaum tells Axios.

  • Colleges are using it to beam in lessons from teachers to classrooms.
  • The medical community is using it to holoport 3D images of surgical procedures to students and doctors.

Driving the news: The household-size PORTL M, available for presale at about $2,000, can be seen in action this month for the first time at SXSW, where people will be able to try it out.

  • "It's everything that the big one is, squeezed down into little Mike-Teavee-Willy-Wonka-sized, bite-sized, fun-sized," says Nussbaum.
  • Children are "going to love playing games on it," he said. "And it comes off the stand and hangs on the wall, so it is a beautiful display for your artwork."
  • Anyone shown on it "will have all of the shadows and reflections and all the volumetric effects needed to make it look like they're kind of floating inside of the device."

What's next: PORTL has introduced a mobile app that will eventually let TikTok users, YouTubers, Instagrammers and others create content for the unit.

The back story: Nussbaum founded PORTL three years ago, in part so that his kids in L.A. could have a more meaningful relationship with their East Coast grandparents: "I thought, 'Wouldn't it be cool if Grandma beamed into our home?"'

  • He also envisions the PORTL M as great for military families and incarcerated people.
  • "There's a place for Zoom and a place for physically getting on a plane and traveling, but there's a lot of room in between."

Erica's thought bubble: Sure, video calls get the job done, but they’re far from ideal. They do a poor job of recreating what it’s really like to be in a meeting: It's easy to tune out, there are awkward silences, and there's no way to read body language.

  • For remote and hybrid work, creating more lifelike ways for people to virtually “be” somewhere will be hugely important.
  • Imagine how much more attention your manager would command as a hologram than as a Zoom square.

Go deeper: "Holoportation" lets you beam yourself anywhere

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