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Ruigang Yang
Spanning Distances with Tele-Immersion

by Jeff Worley & Robin Roenker

Imagine sitting in a meeting with colleagues on another continent, or in a classroom with an instructor thousands of miles away—and feeling as if you're face-to- face.

Photo of Ruigang YangGone would be the obstacles of today's 2-D teleconferencing technology such as small, flat imagery, limited clarity, and loss of eye contact. The teleconferencing of the future—dubbed "tele-immersion"—will be like looking through a "virtual window," says Ruigang Yang, an assistant professor of computer science. "It would feel as if you're sitting right next to me, but in fact you might be 10,000 miles away," Yang says.

The 3-D aspect of Yang's work is the key to achieving the lifelike immersive experience he envisions. He's developing a novel display technology that precisely controls the generation and transmission of light in a view-dependent way (meaning that the image you see will change depending on the direction in which you glance at the display screen) that will provide the 3-D effect without you needing to wear special glasses.

Also crucial in the immersion strategy is capturing and transmitting 3-D images not only of the telecollaborators, but of the entire environment surrounding them. This technology will require hundreds, or even thousands of small cameras, positioned at different angles, to capture hundreds of megabites of visual data every second—all of which must be reconstructed, compressed, transmitted via computer, and then rendered, potentially thousands of miles away, for display.

In order to transmit such huge amounts of data in real-time, Yang will eventually utilize a parallel cluster of hundreds of computers customized with specialized hardware to provide for the enormous computational power and network bandwidth he will require.

Yang believes the technology will ultimately be found in long-distance education, teleconferencing, and telecollaboration in two different scenarios. The full-scale, fully immersive, "real-life" experience, utilizing hundreds of cameras and computers, may take place in rooms dedicated for just such tele-immersion capabilities. A more scaled-down version of the technology, offering a much more restricted field of view, for instance, could be utilized for one-to-one meetings using only several inexpensive cameras and a few personal computers in a person's office.

"Right now, people don't like to use teleconferencing often, because it doesn't feel real at all," Yang says. "But as the technology and the computing capacity advance, we will eventually be able to replicate a face-to-face experience over long distance. Something that we only dreamt about 10 years ago may be possible 20 years down the road."

About Ruigang Yang

Ruigang Yang came to UK in 2003 after completing his Ph.D. at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. While many researchers are working in the area of 3-D visual reconstruction and display, Yang is one of a few devoting attention to both the acquisition and rendering aspects simultaneously. Taking an "end-to-end" approach, he says, helps him envision the process as a complete system.

Yang Research Team