3-D virtual teachers built by researchers

RESEARCHERS HAVE developed a virtual teacher which will "float" behind a hi-tech lectern using a system so realistic its makers say staff will be able to move, talk, point at the blackboard and even fix pupils with their steely gaze.

Ultimately, teachers will be able to pace the classroom, write on computerised white boards and mark classwork at their desks, all from a television studio on the other side of the country. A team from Salford has developed the system to allow specialists to teach without having to travel.

They have produced "uncannily lifelike" images using computer screens such as those in teleprompters, which give the viewer a 3-D illusion. Teachers sit at a terminal watching a television image of their class while a camera behind the screen sends the image of their lesson to the 3-D screen at school. The system is synchronised to allow teachers to look and point directly at each child.

Duffie White, director of the Digital World Centre at Salford Quays, Manchester, said the results were "freaky". The team has produced a lectern which projects a head-and-shoulders image and is working on a bigger screen which would allow a head-to-toe image of a teacher pacing the classroom. Mr White said the system could link to computer-driven whiteboards which display notes, video clips and the Internet. Individual computer screens for pupils would allow "virtual" teachers to look at each child's work".