There, and yet not there: Research project seeks to bring about new interactions between humans or machines in cyberspace

For some years now, we have become accustomed to communicating with each other online via Zoom, FaceTime & Co. Even surgical procedures and industrial manufacturing can now be performed remotely. A research project, recently approved by EU Horizon Europe, aims to advance the next generation of immersive telepresence technologies: In the process, the boundaries between the virtual and physical worlds are set to become ever more blurred, and the technology is expected to make it much easier for us to “be” in a different location without actually having to travel there.

30 years ago it was known as “beaming” and could only be found in science fiction films. Today it is one of the most significant challenges in the development of new multimedia technologies: So-called immersive telepresence technologies allow people to be present in a location and to communicate and act there in a way that is as close to reality as possible, without actually having to be there in person. There are many possible uses: education, entertainment, healthcare and the manufacturing industry are just some of the potential sectors.

“However, we are not yet in a position to process and deliver telepresence content on a large scale. Application platforms and the accompanying network support are currently limited,” Hermann Hellwagner (Department of Information Technology at the University of Klagenfurt), principal investigator on the project, states. Together with Christian Timmerer, he is leading the project “Scalable Platform for Innovations on Real-time Immersive Telepresence (SPIRIT)”, which received  EU Horizon Europe approval in March 2022. He describes the objectives as follows: “We need to manage low-latency communication, high bandwidth demand, and complex content encoding/rendering tasks in real-time.”

The project aims to address the principal technical challenges facing telepresence technologies, focusing in particular on network, transport, security and privacy mechanisms. To adequately test the innovations, a fully distributed, interconnected testing infrastructure is being established at two sites in Germany and the UK to facilitate large-scale testing of heterogeneous telepresence applications in real-life Internet settings.

In addition to the University of Klagenfurt, the project partners are: AWTG Ltd – Advanced Wireless Technology Group (Lead), University of Surrey, Interuniversitair Micro-Electronica Centrum (IMEC), Ericsson GmbH, Deutsche Telekom / T-Systems International, Digital for Planet and Fraunhofer Heinrich Hertz Institut (HHI). The project was recently approved and is scheduled to start in the autumn of 2022.