Do holograms and e-meetings spell the end for TelePresence?

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Beam them up, Scotty. New hologram technology might make digital conferencing even easier. But as one secretary told The Mandarin, face-to-face interaction still matters.

Only Australia’s most committed IT enthusiasts would have stayed up to watch Microsoft’s 3am (AEST) presentation yesterday, which included two surprise announcements of teleconferencing and holographic technology. But within a few hours, public servants around the country were buzzing with business uses for the new tools.

Hoping to transform workplace productivity, Microsoft showed off an all-in-one video conferencing, touchscreen whiteboard and group collaboration tool called Surface Hub. The 84-inch, 4K display (that’s ultra-high definition) has a multi-touch surface, supports simultaneous pen input and has sensors to detect when you walk up to it. Once you’ve finished your meeting, the work can be saved and sent to participants.

The Hub is a step-up from the popular TelePresence services currently provided by the Department of Finance’s Government Network Services Branch, and used in government offices around the country for state branch meetings and inter-jurisdiction negotiations. Although both systems feature document sharing, it is unknown whether Hub would be allowed to support secure meetings up to SECRET classification, as the TelePresence system is.

State and federal police forces may also find operational training revolutionised with Microsoft’s new HoloLens. The augmented reality technology allows the user to build and interact with hologram-like constructs inserted into the surrounding environment.

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