Good news for anyone who’s sick of Zoom calls but also hates talking to people in real life: Google’s Project Starline is becoming more widely available.
Google introduced Starline in 2021 with the goal of making video calls less weird and awkward. It’s essentially a very complicated video conferencing booth that uses cameras, depth sensors, and three-dimensional imagery to approximate face-to-face conversations between two remote participants. A suite of cameras even track both participants’ eye movements and adjust the view on the other side to enable the two people to make eye contact. Our reporter tried it and found that it does a good job creating the sense that the other person is sitting across from you, making the resulting interactions feel very realistic. Others who have tried it say the same.
Google has been testing the setup internally and is now preparing to set up Starline booths in offices outside the company. Chances are you won’t be able to use Starline quite yet, unless you happen to work with one of the companies Google is partnering with in the US. (Salesforce, T-Mobile, and WeWork, to name a few.) It’s also not clear what Google plans to do with the tech. The company has positioned it as a way for long-distance relatives or coworkers to connect. Having a more lifelike interaction could help remote workers have less stilted conversations. Yes, you’re stuck in that Starline booth, but at least you don’t have to jump around with a headset on.
Here’s some more of this week’s news from the Gear desk.
At its iPhone announcement event in September, Apple took several opportunities to scare the living daylights out of anyone who dares venture outside their home. Apple’s true goal was to highlight the emergency response features in its new iPhones and Apple Watches. One of those was crash detection, which can automatically call emergency services when the phone senses you’ve been in an auto collision. Apple says its hardware can detect the kinds of sudden stops and inversions that might occur in a wreck. Oh, but you know where else those movements might happen? On a roller coaster.
At theme parks around the US, iPhone users have reported going on twisty-turny roller coasters then discovering later that their phone has called the cops. In some cases, emergency responders have shown up on the scene for these false alarms. Critics have expressed concern that this could potentially tie up emergency phone lines and personnel. Apple has said the issue is not widespread and that the tech will improve over time.
Wish Upon a Polestar
The Swedish car company Polestar has announced a new electric vehicle. The Polestar 3 is an all-wheel drive SUV. The company says the 400-V battery gets up to 300 miles on a charge. Inside is a dashboard powered by an Nvidia computer that projects driving information onto the windshield like a head-up display.
It starts at $83,900, which is nearly twice as much as the debut price of the previous model, the Polestar 2. There isn’t an official release date for the Polestar 3, but the company says it plans to start selling the vehicles toward the end of 2023.
The Zuck Zone
Mark Zuckerberg has bet big on the metaverse. His company, Meta, has already pumped billions of dollars into the virtual realm, convinced that one day it will inevitably become mainstream. Thing is, that bet will take a long time to pay off. Meanwhile, Meta just announced a new $1,500 VR headset. The tech is cool, but there’s still no sign whatsoever that society at large is eager to strap on a face computer and hop into the virtual realm. (Never mind that the headset also uses inward-facing cameras to track the wearer’s eye movements and facial expressions, which raised privacy concerns—especially because it’s Meta on the other end.)
This week on our Gadget Lab podcast, WIRED editor-at-large Steven Levy, author of the book Facebook: The Inside Story, joins the show to discuss Meta’s VR ambitions and when—if ever—VR might finally take off.