In the 1990s, say proponents of so-called virtual reality, electronic technology will be able to take you anywhere--even to Milan, where you can "visit" the monastery where Leonardo da Vinci's famous fresco "The Last Supper" is painted on a wall. But in the electronic version developed at AT&T's Bell Labs, you view the scene head-on as Leonardo intended, instead of from below, as visitors have done since the building's floor was lowered. The program transmits images of the painting onto two small screens--one for each eye--that are encased in a helmet. When you don the helmet it seems as if you're inside the room with the fresco.
Once inside, you can "move" about, viewing from different angles and getting a close-up of any portion by using a joystick to manipulate the image. The research project is designed to study telepresence, which is the illusion of being somewhere that you aren't, says Kicha Ganapathy, head of machine-perception research at Bell Labs.