With a business class plane ticket from the U.S. to Europe averaging $11,000 and many companies reassessing business travel after two years of doing without, it’s the ideal time for Star Trek-like teleportation. That’s still centuries off (maybe), but holo-portation is here now.
In mid-September, startup Proto was issued a patent by the Patent and Trademark Office for its unique holographic display and communications platform.
For anyone who’s seen it in action, the interactive holograms go beyond the novelty of posthumous hologram concerts featuring deceased artists like Tupac Shakur and Whitney Houston, introducing a whole new communications method that’s on a consumerization path.
Proto founder and CEO David Nussbaum noted that rapper and entertainment impresario Sean Combs used the tech to good effect on Cinco de Mayo one year to hype his DeLeón tequila brand — simultaneously in Houston, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Washington, D.C.
“He was doing a big presentation and it ultimately is like a marketing event. But he also said, ‘Hey, how you doing with the blue shirt on?’” Nussbaum told PYMNTS’ Karen Webster. “They were turning around taking selfies. This gives people the ability to be in places that they wouldn’t be or couldn’t be. It’s just much more accessible.”
Having done costly projects on older tech in the past, Nussbaum said that the system now costs a fraction of the tens of thousands of dollars a single holo-broadcast cost only a few years ago. Though the tool still sets enterprise clients back an average of $5,000, plans are in the works to lower the price dramatically — around $1,000, eventually.
Discussing prospects for the system, Nussbaum told Webster that “this is where virtual communication is going. It’s more than just a communication device, it is a true connection device. When somebody beams in, you can see their body language, you can see their nonverbal cues.”
By removing ungainly virtual reality tech from the equation, vendors like Proto are opening up new possibilities.
“It’s almost a travel replacement solution,” he said.
Big words for a big idea that is quickly gaining ground in a world that’s weary of teleconferencing, yet turned off by airline pricing and air travel experience, which has gotten steadily worse as airlines deal with staffing shortages compounded by fuel prices and a disdain for air travel.
Realizing a Vision
With the potential to disrupt not just business travel but the videoconferencing sector that became the pandemic-era collaboration go-to, Proto is moving to make itself more affordable and ubiquitous in a play to be the next Zoom or WebEx.
The technology offers real-time presenter-audience interaction, which takes holograms out of the narrow box they’ve been in as a fringe entertainment medium to mainstream status.
“When I’m beaming in, I see the audience that I’m being beamed in front of through a URL. I send the return feed through a URL which allows anyone with that URL to see what I’m seeing as the person beaming in,” Nussbaum said. “And of course, people on the receiving side, if I want to see the hologram, then you’re just there. It’s like you’re having a real conversation.”
Speakers can be seated or “stalk the stage,” as Nussbaum said, as the gear will capture that on the sender’s end, and those viewing the hologram experience it as they would in a live setting.
Time Is More Than Money
A key pitch point for holo-portation versus business travel, as Nussbaum said, is that business travel requires not only a lot of money, but a lot of time. Money is replaceable. Time isn’t.
Proto has a number of triumphs under its belt, including turns at New York Fashion Week last year with TOMBOGO and other brands along with “several H&M activations” — in this use case, it supercharges fitting room “magic mirror” try-on tech with actual models beaming in in real time, with the ability to click and inspect an item and buy it by scanning a QR code.
“This is a time machine, it’s a travel replacement,” he said. “So, instead of booking the travel and getting on the plane and going to the thing and going to your hotel, you beam in, you beam out and save a lot of time, save a lot of money. You don’t pollute the environment.”
The environmental, social and governance angle of Proto plays well to sensitivities around the climate impacts of business, leaving Nussbaum to call Proto “the evolution of not just communication, but true connection.”