Astronaut Ron Garan appears as a live hologram in a Proto device at the Los Angeles Art Fair in January, 2022. (Photo by Steven Hong; all images courtesy Proto)

Forget Facetime and Zoom, a company wants people to communicate through holograms. The product, sold by the company Proto, projects a three-dimensional hologram of you into a display case, where you can then interact with your audience in real-time. The product is already being used to display NFTs and present live talks and performances, but the company wants a smaller version of the device inside people’s homes.

Holograms are already used in museums like the Illinois Holocaust Museum and the Legacy Museum in Montgomery, Alabama, which utilize them to relay survivor testimonies. They have also been used in music for years (Tupac came back from the dead to make an appearance at Coachella in 2012; Michael Jackson “performed” at the 2014 Billboard Music Awards; and Whitney Houston has a hologram show in Las Vegas). An upcoming ABBA residency will show digital images of their 1979 selves, and holograms are even being used in stand-up comedy.

Proto’s founder and CEO, David Nussbaum, has a long history of work in entertainment holograms. His resume includes working on Late Night host Jimmy Kimmel’s live hologram appearance at the 2014 Country Music Association Awards; a hologram of Ronald Reagan at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in California; and an interview with a hologram of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, among other projects. Nussbaum founded Proto in Los Angeles in 2019; a year later, the company raised $3 million in venture capital funding.

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Beyond their applications in entertainment, Nussbaum sees holograms as a way to connect. “The reason why I did this is because my parents live on the East Coast and they’re getting older; I’ve got little kids and I’m living on the West Coast,” Nussbaum told Hyperallergic in an interview.

“Communicating — trying to teach your five-, six-, or seven-year-old kids about grandma — and having them connect with grandma through a phone or through a computer screen, there’s just no connection,” Nussbaum continued. “So I thought: Wouldn’t it be cool if I could beam to grandma’s house or grandma could beam into our home, and have a real face-to-face way of communicating?”

Nussbaum’s company currently sells a lifesize version of its product Proto Epic: A two-footdeep box into which the hologram is projected to give the illusion of three-dimensionality. It retails for $65,000, and it has been used for onstage live performances, red carpet interviews, and many events in the business and tech sectors. 

The Proto M device displaying an NFT by GunBull

“The direction of the company is evolution of communication,” Nussbaum said. “It’s a broadcast communication and travel replacement, but the side effects are kind of unlimited: Hologram NFTs, hologram cartoons, hologram entertainment.”

The Proto Epic boxes have also displayed NFTs in a recent exhibition at Art Basel Miami. But Nussbaum wants a smaller version of the product to display NFTs inside of people’s homes, telling Hyperallergic that artists can turn their NFTs into holograms using Proto’s software. 

The 14-inch-tall home device, called Proto M, will sell for around $2,000, but it won’t be launched until the end of 2022. The company sells a studio kit — a green screen, lighting, and cameras — for recording high-quality holographic content, but a new smartphone app will allow users to create holographs of themselves.

“It’s hologram Zoom meets hologram Alexa meets hologram Masterclass,” said Nussbaum. In a promotional video on the company’s website, the actors use Proto for a doctor’s appointment, a workout, and shopping (the user tries clothes on a small hologram version of herself). 

The retail applications seem nearly endless, but Nussbaum sees it as more than another consumerist tech device. “I think it’s the future of home communication,” he said.

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Elaine Velie

Elaine Velie is a writer from New Hampshire living in Brooklyn. She studied Art History and Russian at Middlebury College and is interested in art's role in history, culture, and politics.

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