Beam him up: Mark O’Neil and Columbia make history with hologram meeting

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Columbia Shipmanagement (CSM) is going boldly into the future of virtual conferencing with an eye-catching new bit of hologram kit.

The entertainment industry is no stranger to such technology, which has enabled dead stars from Whitney Houston to Maria Callas to appear on stage again.

But this is thought to be a first for shipping.

Key speakers will be able to contribute virtually to group training sessions or important client meetings thousands of miles away, so maximising efficiencies and cutting costs, CSM said.

“The future is already here,” CSM president and chief executive Mark O’Neil told an audience in Manila as a hologram beamed from the Limassol offices of OneLearn Global, 5,534 miles (8,900 km) away in Cyprus.

In a scene reminiscent of the teleporter in Star Trek, the boss appeared as a life-size 3D hologram in a special portal with 4K resolution.

He was able to talk to, see and hear the people who were physically attending the event in the Philippines, even though he was six time zones away.

O’Neil said CSM is in the vanguard of what he called an exciting evolution.

He explained that the company is a firm believer in the power of digitalisation and has invested in the cutting-edge portal technology, not only to elevate its training capability to new levels, but to put its money where its mouth is when it comes to environmental sustainability by replacing excessive global travel with hologram-led international business meetings.

“The equipment we use is high-tech but very portable and takes the whole issue of speaker contributions to conferences or business meetings to a completely different level,” he said.

“A fleet director in one part of the world can mentor ships’ officers attending a conference in another, while customers and suppliers can have more intuitive and interactive meetings without having to step on a plane and fly thousands of miles to a meeting.”

The hologram was able to happen thanks to technology developed by Los Angeles company PORTL, which has worked with CSM for more than a year.

O’Neil was filmed talking to the audience in a purpose-built “capture” studio in OneLearn Global’s offices in Limassol. He was able to see the audience based in the Nautilus Pacific Maritime Training Center in Manila, while they saw him standing lifesize within an eight-foot (2.4-metre) tall, glass-fronted computerised box.

“This is tomorrow’s world happening today and we are delighted to be able to make it a reality,” O’Neil said.

Captain Faouzi Fradi, CSM’s group director of crewing and training, said the kit can take a day to assemble.

But it can be easily packed away and moved to a different site, opening up endless opportunities for high-level manager participation.

“The technology is exciting, and we will be looking to implement it very soon in the new year. There is next to no latency or delay to the transmission and the hologram is so lifelike you would think the person was actually in the room with you,” he said.

Fradi said the company used to fly staff to Manila for $4,100, plus the cost of a hotel and the loss of a few days’ travel.

But now they can contribute without leaving their country.

“Also, we are delighted to be working with Nautilus as they are a modern, fully equipped simulator and training centre in Manila,” he added.

CSM hopes development of the PORTL concept could in time lead to smaller, cheaper and more lightweight portals becoming available.

This could open up opportunities for crew members on a ship to keep in touch virtually with their loved ones back home.

The holograms would certainly liven up TradeWinds’ editorial news conference calls. Check out below the article on Trade Winds website:

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