The Hologram Startups Trying to End Your Zoom Fatigue

To help make virtual meetings more engaging, a new startup seeks to replace video conferencing with an app that streams a lifelike 3D hologram of each participant through an iPhone camera.

Image courtesy of Matsuko

We’ve all struggled with Zoom Fatigue in some form, whether personally adopting a staunch “camera-off” policy or dialing in a couple minutes late to avoid awkward pre-meeting small talk. Matsuko, a startup launched by Maria Vircikova, seeks to make these virtual get-togethers less stilted by using holograms, a futuristic technology long dismissed as fantasy but with manifold real-world applications. Using the company’s iPhone app, realtime 3D images streamed via iPhone cameras replicate the feeling of an IRL conversation during remote meetings. Members equipped with special glasses can view and interact with other parties as if they were in the room.

Matsuko is hardly the first company experimenting with holograms to work out the kinks of remote meetings. Portl projects a user’s likeness inside a seven-foot-tall box that costs a cool $65,000. Students at the University of Central Florida are utilizing the technology to practice their bedside manner when diagnosing Parkinson’s disease, while rapper and producer Sean Combs notably beamed into his son’s party to sing “Happy Birthday” when he couldn’t be there to celebrate. The company, which has raised $15 million to date, anticipates selling 500 booths and 5,000 smaller tabletop units in 2022 alone.

Google is spearheading Project Starline, a projection system that acts as a “magic window” through which users can interact with life-size 3D holograms that appear to be sitting directly across from you without additional glasses or headsets. It’s only available internally for now, but the company soon hopes to apply some of Starline’s advancements to its suite of communication products.

Project Starline by Google

Of course, the term “hologram” is somewhat misleading. Holograms are defined as 3-D images produced by light beams visible to the naked eye. What we colloquially call “holograms” refers to a technique called “Pepper’s Ghost,” named after British scientist John Henry Pepper, who pioneered a theater trick that involves projecting images onto an angled piece of glass to create the illusion of a ghostly presence on stage.

Holograms have been widely referenced in sci-fi films and novels since the ‘70s, notably depicting Princess Leia requesting help from Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars (1977). Interest in the technology surged following a computer-generated Tupac Shakur’s posthumous performance alongside Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre at Coachella 2012. Tom Dixon recently traveled to Stockholm Design Week as a hologram to debut his studio’s latest line of vases and vessels during a period of intense travel restrictions.

“If these past two years have shown us anything, it’s that as humans we need each other’s presence,” Maria Vircikova, founder and CEO of Matsuko, tells Fast Company. “And even though we’ve come a long way with remote communication, today’s tools are still way too distant. Our brain is wired for the third dimension, and we need a sensation of people physically being there.”

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