We all know, thanks to the pandemic, about Zoom and Teams – but the Beijing Winter Olympics may have put a far more realistic meetings technology on centre stage: Cloud ME.
The full body, 3D images produce a strikingly realistic, holograph-style experience, as Zhai Zheng, an official at the Beijing Games, can attest.
Since entering the "closed loop," an epidemic control management system at the Games last month, Zhai has focused all his attention on training and dispatching volunteers to aid people from all over the world. He's been stationed in an office without a chance to see any sports events for himself.
Zhai worked round the clock. Even during the Spring Festival, a traditional Chinese holiday which emphasises family reunion, he was still preoccupied with handling a miscellany of emergencies popping up throughout the day.
So his professional isolation has also impacted his ability to communicate with his family, far away across China.
When he was suddenly invited to partake in an activity, he didn't spend much time wondering about what it might be. He entered a room filled with a giant LED wall screen, on which he saw his wife and daughter's image presented on a vivid, almost lifelike screen.
He would later discover that it was an "orchestrated surprise" and that the true-to-life image of his wife and daughter was powered by Cloud ME, the cloud-based real-time communication (RTC) technology developed by Alibaba. "You two look so real and I can't help touching you through the screen," Zhai told his family during their encounter.
With their full-body images projected on the same screen, the family of three had a chance to "reunite" in a special way and pose for the world's first Cloud ME family photo.
"It came as a big surprise to me," Zhai told People's Daily Online during an interview. "My wife and daughter had known everything but they didn't tell me. It was a sweet lie.
"Beyond technology … it is also a soft touch. For me, to have a chance to greet and meet with my family via the Cloud ME booth makes me feel the warm and tender side of technology," he said.
Cloud ME technology overcame travel restrictions and geographical barriers under the Covid-19 epidemic, bringing users a realistic meeting experience, with life-size holographic projections that support real-time conversations and interactions.
By stepping into a pop-up studio in a Cloud ME booth, participants have their full-body image projected realistically into a remote booth; their projected personas are displayed to meet and greet with their counterparts.
The true-to-life meetings can also be opened up to a wider audience across unlimited locations, thanks to easily-installed remote projection functionality.
The Cloud ME booth is simple to set up. Beyond typical studio equipment, such as a video camera and a computer to capture the footage, it does not require any additional onsite IT infrastructure, or optimised internet bandwidth, to execute recording and transmission – thanks to the power of cloud computing.
Videos and audios produced in the Cloud ME booth were transmitted on Alibaba Cloud, the digital technology and intelligence backbone of Alibaba Group. Backed by low latency, high availability and high concurrency features of Alibaba Cloud, the process can be completed within 200 milliseconds.
The live recording is then projected onto a remote 4K high-definition screen, generating a true-to-life hologram effect, reconstructing all details in high definition – including micro facial expressions and clothing texture.
The Beijing Winter Olympics' first Cloud ME event was a remote meeting on February 6 between Alibaba Group's chairman and CEO Daniel Zhang and Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). They were unable to meet in person in China due to the epidemic restrictions.