By Kate Roff
A tech project connecting ordinary citizens around the world has impressed global leaders like Barack Obama, and will launch new 'portals' across several continents this year.
Shared_Studios have set up portals around the world, where video cameras connect to people in remote or conflict regions. In gold-colored shipping containers visitors get to meet each other, share meals together, contribute to entrepreneurial collaborations, and even compete in dance-offs.
When former US President Obama experienced the initiative he was impressed. "It’s an amazing technology, making it seem like you're standing right in front of me," President Obama said, speaking to participants appearing on a life-size virtual screen.
Shared_Studios founder Amar Bakshi said the project is about celebrating cultural connections, and “curating the diversity of the world”.
"We have 30 portals around the world,” Mr Bakshi said. “Every portal connects to every other portal in the network. When you enter one you come face-to-face with someone in an identical portal somewhere else on earth and can converse live, full body, as if in the same room."
“When people come in they describe feeling as if they are breathing the same air. Kids think that they can walk up through the wall and hug people of the other side.”
Over 75,000 people have experienced the portals, which are run by local curators in locations such as Erbil in Iraq, Gaza City in Palestine, Kigali in Rwanda and Mexico City. With eight sites in the US already, the initiative is set to launch in Australia, India, Lebanon, Yemen, and Colombia this year.
"We want this to happen all over the world, for everybody,” said co-founder Michelle Moghtader. “Any location can really be a portal, as long as it has internet and a source of electricity."
Curators are quick to point out how much the portals mean to the community they are established in.
"Being in the portal project kind of changed my life,” said Milwaukee Portal Curator Lewis Lee, “but I think it's just starting world peace.”
"No matter how far away we are, we can still be brothers and sisters,” said Mexico City Portal Curator Tomas Ramirez.