Beam me up! Teleporting today

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You probably heard that Star Trek’s Scotty recently died, with his widow planning to shoot his remains into outer space. It’s an opportune time to review where we are with teleporting. Last year physicists successfully teleported quantum bits, allowing us to dream that one day science fiction may become science fact, and we will never have to eat airline food again. On a more prosaic level, a company called Teleportec has for a few years been marketing a system that effectively projects a person to a different location, allowing a quasi-3D image and eye-to-eye contact between people. This has been used in many domains, most notably conferences. When I speak to financial services audiences, I often also note that another application is beaming financial advisors into any location, meaning even small regional bank branches or kiosks can provide customers access to experienced, trusted advisors. Teleportec says that a UK bank that has tested the system reports that 92% of customers are happy to buy from a teleported representative. The most sophisticated way of teleporting ourselves is the Teleimmersion project, which uses the ultra-high-speed Internet 2 as its backbone. This not only allows people to interact at a distance as if they were present, but embeds a whole series of sub-projects, for example for immersive data visualization. Jaron Lanier, who invented the term “virtual reality”, has been a driving force behind this project. So, while today many of us are beginning to treat web video-conferencing as an everyday tool, the next generation of communicating at a distance – that we might call teleporting – may soon be part of our day-to-day lives.