June 1, 2012 at 1:45 PM ET
So-called holographic representations of people are popping up everywhere from airports to drugstores to point people in the right direction, convince them to buy stuff — and save companies money on employee salaries and benefits.
Beginning this July, for example, travelers passing through JFK, LaGuardia, and Newark Liberty airports will be greeted by a virtual assistant projected onto a person-shaped piece of glass who will dole out information on where to find the nearest bathroom, buses and rental cars.
Providing this information is currently the job of flesh-and-bone customer service agents, who require an hourly wage, bathroom and lunch breaks and other benefits.
Similar technology is already in operation at London Luton Airport where the virtual mannequins Holly and Graham provide security information and reduced by at least 5 percent the number of bags incorrectly packed, an airport representative told the news site 3D Focus.
According to the news site, achieving the effect behind the virtual assistants is "simple":
A recorded HD video of a person or animated character is rear projected onto a reflective film attached to a transparent glass/acrylic surface cut in to the shape of a person. Sometimes a pair of shoes is even positioned at the base and they tend to be life-sized. The film (for example, a film known as Vikuiti from 3M) is covered with glass bead lenses. When the image passes through the lenses from the projector, the beads have the effect of diffusing the light, giving a very wide viewing angle (nearly 180 degrees).
In addition to airports, visitors to the Duane Reade pharmacy on 40 Wall Street in New York have been greeted by a virtual assistant from the Tensator Group since 2011 that provides information on the store. You can see it in the video below.
In the future, such assistants are bound to become increasingly interactive, providing shoppers with a suggested cut of meat, for example, based on a barcode scan of a wine bottle.
Assuming the algorithm used to make the suggestion is developed with the aid of a fine sommelier, it could be better than that of a store clerk, leading to sales of more wine.
For a broader overview of where this technology is today and going tomorrow, check out The Rise of the Virtual Mannequins at 3D Focus.
--Via 3D Focus
John Roach is a contributing writer for msnbc.com. To learn more about him, check out his website and follow him on Twitter. For more of our Future of Technology series, watch the featured video below.