Hiring someone based solely on a phone interview or a videoconference meeting is something Hugh Morris said he has never done and never would.

Yet, Morris, executive director of a London-based business processing service firm, said that he has hired people he has never met in person but has interviewed using high-end video technology called telepresence.

"They really do appear to be across the table, looking life-sized," said Morris. "It's as good as meeting in person."

By using large flat-screen displays, cameras placed behind the displays and high-quality lighting and sound, several firms, including high-tech stalwarts Cisco Systems Inc. and Hewlett-Packard Co., are betting they can create video-based meetings in which it is possible to interact with people, no matter how far away, as if they were in the same room.

Telepresence technology was developed at academic laboratories such as the electronic visualization lab at UIC in the 1990s. University researchers continue to innovate, also having produced life-size screens mounted on robots that can prowl around an office holding conversations with colleagues. At UIC, researchers are developing a three-dimensional imaging system that does not require users to wear special glasses, seeking to provide a new level of realism to telepresence.

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