The Look and Feel of Telepresence, Part 2

In the last issue of Corporate AV, we discussed the bigger issues of telepresence—bandwidth needs, audio, and just how telepresence is different from traditional videoconferencing. In this issue 12/27/2007 7:00 AM Eastern

The Look and Feel of Telepresence, Part 2

Dec 27, 2007 12:00 PM, By Jessaca Gutierrez

In the last issue of Corporate AV, we discussed the bigger issues of telepresence—bandwidth needs, audio, and just how telepresence is different from traditional videoconferencing. In this issue, we’ll discuss some of those same issues with HP Halo Chief Scientist Mark Gorzynski and the applications the technology is being used for as well as rate of use, costs, and the future of this technology.

HP Halo

Gorzynski says there was three things HP was trying to accomplish when designing Halo, a telepresence system the company calls a video collaboration studio that’s available for both creators in the film industry and the corporate workforce.

“The first thing that is different about Halo is the space we create for getting work done," Gorzynski says. "We try to design a space that is both good for the meeting; the table is the right kind of table, and the space is right for getting work done for the right number of people as well as it works for video. Sometimes people have a tendency to, for example, make a space good for work, but not video and so remote people are at an extreme disadvantage, or sometimes it’s geared toward video and the local work environment isn’t so good. Second, it has to be great for communication, and so you need to be concerned with some things like you mentioned, bandwidth, cameras, and screens, and so on so that they create what we call ‘transparent communication.’ It’s more than communication between two people; it’s social communication. So if you look at a spectrum of communications you might have personal communication between one person and another, you then start to include some nonverbal communication in addition to audio where I can see your face, but then it eventually gets to group communication. When you have group visual communication—social communication—with gestures in between each other, it’s very important to not to distort things like gestures to another person, or glances, and that’s really where telepresence and beyond telepresence is where I think Halo is—where we start to differentiate between normal videoconferencing, which really struggles to have you sense the presence of people on the other side, maybe get some basic facial contact, but really has a difficult time with group communication—especially transparently around the workspace, so sitting around a table together. I think the third thing we try to differentiate on is interaction, and so if you end up having to do a lot to support a system to turn it on it gets complicated, to turn it off it’s complicated, to get it configured, you’re interacting more with the technology than you are with your work. So what you want is the interaction to be about your work, not about the equipment. So you need to push the interaction to the background.”

The Look and Feel of Telepresence, Part 2

Dec 27, 2007 12:00 PM, By Jessaca Gutierrez

Interaction or designing for the lack of interaction has definitely been a theme in AV integration as of late, with custom touch panels to control everything but the height of the chairs, human interaction, not human/technology interaction is becoming center. Unlike the retail space, which uses technology to wow and amaze its customers, technology like that may not have any business in the workspace. Gorzynski says the technology should be about getting work done.

Part of designing a system that allowed users to get work done played a large part in the unique network design of the system. Instead of operating on a LAN, Halo operates on a parallel network called the Halo Video Exchange Network (HVEN). HVEN creates a custom network link that can go into the local environment. “Think about it as a ring or ladder around the whole globe from Asia to Europe to the Americas and to that backbone any room we are creating can connect to it,” Gorzynski says. “So now we’ve solved the problem of a consistent bandwidth service. We can run 45Mbps per room to there, so we’re not struggling anymore to create one or two, we create 45Mbps. We get 45Mbps per room via our service. In addition to the 45Mbps of service you solve some of the other key problems the integrator has such as maintaining the equipment, having access to upgrades, and a variety of things that need to be maintained over time, so you end up solving some of the first few key satisfiers by having a consistent room that doesn’t break down, to get where it needs to on the globe.”

Although telepresence is primarily suited for the boardroom because of its bandwidth needs and the cost associated with the system, Erica Schroeder, director of market management at Cisco Systems, says telepresence isn’t strictly for the boardroom.

“We have one customer that has a pharmaceutical division,” Schroeder says. “They are very interested in anything that can help them get a new product out to the market faster because any day that a drug is on the market earlier, you can actually count that as hard dollars in terms of incremental revenue, and so one of the things they are looking to Telepresence to help them with is to speed time to market for new product offerings.”

In a similar case, Schroeder identifies a Eurorpean retail client, citing how when the company was expanding its reach to Eastern Europe, opening up new stores was done more quickly. “In their case, they’re dealing with relatively scarce resources, so experts in headquarters in operations and logistics; they’ve got architects; they got local experts who are working with local government on permits and so on and they need to be able to get these folks together quickly and off and on on an ad hoc basis,” she says. “And if they can get them together more quickly, they can get faster decisions made and they can actually open stores faster, and they know everyday that a new store is opened earlier that means x more dollars per day, and that really can have a substantial impact on their top line.”

Essentially, the biggest selling point for clients to implement a costly telepresence system will be how it helps the bottom line, which it seems at the early adopter stage of this technology, integrators will need to tell clients how exactly the technology can grow their bottom line. As the costs come down and bandwidth increases for many establishments, it wouldn’t be too far fetched to see this technology in hospitals and schools where these sectors have already seen a positive impact and use for long-distance communications.

The Look and Feel of Telepresence, Part 2

Dec 27, 2007 12:00 PM, By Jessaca Gutierrez

Green, Of Course

Another benefit that’s going to attract corporations to the technology is the ever-present environmental appeal. Telepresence means less travel, which means fewer trains, planes, and cars polluting the Earth, but that’s nothing new—that was promised ages ago with the advent of videoconferencing and other telecommunications. Nonetheless, it is a big asset for companies that are looking at way to reduce their carbon footprint without loosing the value and quality that comes with face-to-face meetings, which is what telepresence promises.

“When we first introduced the product a lot of people said, 'Oh, this is a better corporate jet,' Scroedar says. "While this is faster and cheaper and more scalable corporate jet, we actually don’t like that comparison very much because people immediately go, 'Hmm. It’s a way to reduce travel.'

Where’s This Technology Going?

Because this technology is in the early adopter stage, with integrators and users learning just how exactly it will fit into the spectrum of support and efficiency, telepresence is seeing an exponential growth curve. Analysts predict that saturation of these systems in use will grow by 2000 percent by 2013—of course, this is all dependent upon the education of potential users and organizations. It still has a ways to go though, but both Schroeder and Gorzynski say that room use has already seen marked growth by their users, and the technology will be the new yardstick for how telecommunications will be measured in the future.

“People sort of joke about the public switch telephone network (PSTN). You could say that we are building the next PSTN—the next Public Switch Telepresence Network,” Scroedar says.

Suddenly I feel like watching Star Trek: The Next Generation, when Captain Jean-Luc Picard is at the helm of the bridge trying to negotiate with the Klingons or some other foe on the giant screen. Will telepresence steal traditional videoconferencing’s thunder? It’s already done that a little already, but many companies probably won’t be able to look past the price tag to even consider the technology. With systems starting around $80,000 and then quickly escalating in the six figures for the complete room builds for systems such as Halo, the technology may be out of reach for companies yet.

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