Computer scientists in the US are developing a system which would allow people to "teleport" a solid 3D recreation of themselves over the internet.
Professors Todd Mowry and Seth Goldstein of Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania think that, within a human generation, we might be able to replicate three-dimensional objects out of a mass of material made up of small synthetic "atoms".
Cameras would capture the movement of an object or person and then this data would be fed to the atoms, which would then assemble themselves to make up an exact likeness of the object.
They came up with the idea based on "claytronics," the animation technique which involves slightly moving a model per frame to animate it.
"We thought that a good analogy for what we were going to do was claymation - something like the Wallace and Gromit shows," Dr Mowry told BBC World Service's Outlook programme.
"When you watch something created by claymation, it is a real object and it looks like its moving itself. That's something like the idea we're doing... in our case, the idea is that you have computation in the 'clay', as though the clay can move itself.
"So if it was a dog, and you want the dog to move, it will actually move itself. But it is a physical object in front of you - it's not just a picture or hologram or something like that."
Fans of science fiction have long been interested in the idea of teleportation - where an object, or even a human being, is transported from one location to another instantaneously.
Professor Goldstein has envisioned that, eventually, the objects will be built with "nano-dust" - tiny objects that can be programmed to bind to each other and move - but currently they are trying to build at a much larger scale, working with objects the size of table-tennis balls.
Their original plan was for the application to work in face-to-face interaction.
"I'm in Pittsburgh, and you're in London. How do we make that happen?" Dr Mowry said.
"We can't teleport somebody - nobody's going to travel anywhere - but if we're in our own rooms a system of cameras will capture exactly what's in each room."
He said that these cameras would work much the same way as the character of Gollum was created by capturing the movements of actor Andy Serkis in the Lord Of The Rings films.
Mr Serkis wore a special suit and the cameras were able to interpret his movements.
"That information is turned into some representation - a three-dimensional version of an mpeg [computer video file] - like a DVD," Dr Mowry added.
"You capture it digitally, ship it over across the network, and then reproduce a physical object that looks just like the original object, and moves just like it."
And he stressed this would be useful for much more than simple video conferencing.
"It's very artificial to talk to somebody through a glass wall, which is effectively what you have when you have a screen," he added.
"You want to forget the fact that you're in different rooms." SOURCE