Attn. family lawyers: Virtual family dinners

I confess: When I first received the announcement of Virtual Family Dinner, I wondered if it was a joke. Once I realized it wasn’t, I immediately saw its potential in the emerging area of virtual visitation.

Here’s the scenario as described by the Chicago company that developed it, Accenture Technology Labs:

A man lives in Chicago and his 80-year-old mother lives alone in Florida. Neither one leaves their home to visit the other. So, how do they manage to ‘break bread’ together at the same dining table?

The Virtual Family Dinner, presently being tested in the Lab’s ‘test kitchen,’ uses small ceiling-mounted cameras that act as sensors. These track mom in her kitchen while she prepares a meal. Once the system sees that she has brought dishes to the table, it infers that she is ready to receive company.

A screen (transparent when not in use) pops up at the end of the dining room table. A computer application runs through a directory of pre-registered family members and friends to find someone who is ‘available for dinner’ (or, at least, for a conversation with mom during the meal). This individual’s life-sized image is then projected, in real time, on the screen — as though sitting at the end of the table — and mom no longer feels like she’s eating alone.

Replace the elderly mom in this scenario with a middle-aged divorced parent separated from his or her children. The same technology could bring divorced parents closer to their children, it seems. Interesting, in any event.