Haroon Inam, Chief Technology Officer at Smart Wires, a company that generates advanced technologies to improve the world’s electrical grids, is the definition of a hard worker. Working 14 to 16-hour days to manage the technology that supports hundreds of jobs at the company, he realized long ago that phone calls are inefficient for group meetings, and that every minute spent fidgeting with uncooperative systems — or wondering if participants are truly focused — is time and energy wasted. After mandating that all conference calls include video in 2006, it took Inam just two years to conclude that when people aren’t on the screen, they aren’t engaged.
“I’m on videoconference four to five hours every day,” Inam explained. “By 2008 I decided that we needed better room coverage to engage every participant, so we developed an ad-hoc three-camera system with basic video stitching, based on open-source technology from Carnegie Mellon. Then a few years ago I wanted to upgrade to 4K cameras, and I discovered what I had really been looking for all along — the PanaCast 2 camera, which provides 180-degree coverage in Panoramic-4K with Intelligent Zoom and plug-and-play usability.”
Since learning about the revolutionary PanaCast technology, Smart Wires hasn’t looked back. The company relies so heavily on videoconferencing, it’s hard to imagine what their meetings were like when a camera could only provide a narrow view, especially for small rooms or full crowds in large rooms. Now, in a large meeting room at their headquarters in California, two PanaCast 2 camera systems provide whole-room coverage and zoomed-in motion tracking coverage of the current speaker.
“I even use a PanaCast 2 in my office, which has no desk and is set up like a collaboration area,” Inam extolled. “That way if I have 5 or 6 people in my office on a call with other locations, the remote participants can see all of us and know we are all engaged. By the simple virtue of having every participant on camera, we’ve found our meetings are much more effective and efficient. When you consider how easily a PanaCast can be set up in any room and connected to any display, it really is a game-changing technology.”
Smart Wires’ main large-room collaboration system is quite complex, with each location housing multiple projectors or digital displays to show the speaker’s GoToMeeting feed, a real-time Slack feed, and a third showing meeting minutes, which are recorded at each location. Using the multiple screens and feeds allows participants to engage in supplemental conversations and have access to recent comments to generate questions. What’s more, the company records all the calls so they can be referenced later, exactly as they occurred. Through this system, every meeting participant can follow the speaker as PanaCast’s Intelligent Zoom focuses on the speaker and tracks their movement with up to 6x zoom at HD quality.
According to Inam, the process helps employees be as accurate as possible when working on post-meeting projects, even providing the context of facial expressions and group dynamics when viewing playback. This helps the mid-size company, which Inam describes as a startup, to compete with much larger competitors that employ thousands of workers.
“We are competing with huge conglomerates, so our pace of innovation and development has to be faster than theirs, using far fewer resources,” Inam continued. “But when we host meetings with outside partners, they consistently remark that our teams are highly engaged, often noting that our techniques allow much greater development speed and agility than larger companies.”
All of this would be for naught, Inam says, if the technology wasn’t 100 percent reliable, simple, and ready to use every day. In particular, he noted that the flawless operation on both Windows 10 and Apple’s OSX was absolutely necessary, as the company uses both operating systems across many offices.
“We can host a meeting with 150 people across 12 times zones, and know that every camera will work every time,” Inam explained. “The undetectable video stitching was the first big ‘wow’ moment when I purchased our first PanaCast 2, but since then it has impressed every person who’s used it and has performed without fail across a range of countries and meeting types. Nowadays, a good portion of our external partners end up asking, ‘how are you getting such a wide view?’, because they instantly recognize the difference when the entire room is on camera.
“Our goal at Smart Wires is to reinvent the electrical grid to provide better, more reliable energy transmission across the globe. We make smart devices that can alter the line’s impedance, allowing electric utilities to control where power flows on their grid. We also produce all the associated software and communications infrastructure, providing a true end-to-end system. Finding ways to increase our operational efficiency is as important to our success as increasing the efficiency of our products themselves, and PanaCast has certainly achieved that goal.”
Thanks to its tiny size and fast setup, the PanaCast camera system is actually portable as well, effectively turning any room into a full-view conference or huddle room.
After the success of the PanaCast 2, the company kept pace with emerging video standards and developed the PanaCast 3, which features upgraded cameras, microphones and artificial intelligence software that takes PanaCast performance even further. The small, portable system uses three 13 megapixel cameras and advanced video stitching software to capture a 180-degree field of view, allowing collaborators to share 100 percent video coverage of any size room in a Panoramic-4K view (3840 x 1080), zoom up to 6x at HD quality, and sit as close as 18 inches from the camera.
In addition to intelligent multi-camera and multi-microphone hardware, PanaCast 3 comes equipped with Intelligent Zoom, which enables automated zooming based on who is speaking and room occupancy. Intelligent Zoom is part of PanaCast’s Intelligent Vision suite of artificial-intelligence add-ons for the PanaCast line of products. Both the PanaCast 2 and PanaCast 3 are compatible with all of today’s leading collaboration software providers, including Skype, GoToMeeting, Zoom, Webex, Slack, Google Hangouts, join.me and more.