Corporate conference rooms are filled with collaboration tools that often fall just short of people's needs and expectations. The speaker phone is often hard to hear, and the projector has to be wheeled in from another room. The whiteboard is a simple tool, but there's no way to transfer information off of the board, aside from snapping a picture of it.
Cisco is trying to solve this problem with the Spark Board, an "all-in-one" digital whiteboard that serves as a projector, whiteboard, and audio-video conferencing tool. The new device is 100 percent cloud-connected, built on an updated Cisco Spark platform. It's the first video-capable device that Cisco has shipped that's only connected to the cloud.
The system includes all the components necessary to run a meeting, with the exception of a display. For the first year, users don’t have to pay any additional costs; after that, the cost is $250 per year. The product is available in the U.S. today and is coming to Australia, Canada, France, Japan, New Zealand, Spain and U.K. Businesses in the U.S. will be able to buy it through CDW, and resellers will be able to get it from SYNNEX. Both HP and Dell will make Chromeboxes for meetings available in the coming months.”
Hundreds of employers of all sizes are contracting directly or through their insurers with telehealth providers to cut medical costs and give workers 24-hour access to doctors and nurse practitioners. WellPoint teamed up with Boston-based American Well to offer telemed services to 3.5 million of its health-plan subscribers last year and intends to extend the service to another 32.5 million over the next 12 to 18 months. UnitedHealth Group began a pilot program in January, providing 310,000 subscribers in Nevada with virtual doctors’ visits.
I have written plenty about Cisco Telepresence and Cognizant’s rollout of videoconferencing even to its small offices and executive homes.
Brad Feld writes in Inc. about experiences which show the maturing of the collaboration technology to even smaller businesses
“At the Foundry Group office in Boulder, we installed Oblong’s Mezzanine system (see video below), which we believe is the future technology for collaborative, distributed work. (Full disclosure: Foundry is an investor.) We rolled out LifeSize videoconferencing in every Techstars office. We made sure each conference room had high-quality audio and video for any Web-based videoconference call. We figured out how to deal with multiparty calls and learned the magic trick of separating audio and video streams.”
Jason Perlow at ZDNeton Microsoft's integrated VOIP/Video Conferencing/Group Presenting/Instant Messaging solution.
"The software is fully integrated into Exchange, so whenever you set
up a call, you click a button for "New Lync Meeting" and it sets up a
virtual conference line as well as the appointment blocked out in your
Outlook calendar along with the meeting invites to the folks that need
to join. When it comes time to call in, you just click on "Join Lync Meeting"
in the meeting entry and everyone gets connected to the conference. Once they have joined, people can: turn on their webcams; upload
PowerPoint presentations to show the group or other document types for
folks to download; and present the output of applications on their
desktop. They can also instant message the group with URLs and anything
else that is needed."
and when you are out of the office
"Have you ever had to multitask between your calendar, look up the
number, jump back into the dialer, and hope you remembered it correctly?
Not fun. This is totally eliminated with Lync. Whether I am using my Windows
Phone, my iPhone or an Android phone, all I need to do is click on a
calendar entry for the call, and the mobile version of the Lync client
contacts the remote server, and calls me on the phone, directly
inserting me into the conference."
These bots are pricey, though. A VGo costs $6000, and Anybots start at $9700. That may be why a company called Double Robotics in Miami, Florida, is tipped to make waves this year. Next month, it is due to launch a roving telepresence robot - with an iPad for a head - for the same price as a high-end laptop. Double's first production run sold out, and the company is reported to have secured almost $2 million of pre-orders for its 2013 run (see video below). Its customers reportedly include numerous US universities and Fortune 500 companies.
Of course, past failures of "telecommuting" to catch on widely suggest that these devices won't completely replace face-to-face meetings or communal working spaces. Still, they do provide us with a way of communicating that wasn't possible before. And the broader progression of the underlying technology suggests it is only going to become easier and easier for people to control machines from afar in the coming years.
The next wave of telepresence under development in laboratories suggests the technology will become significantly more immersive. For example, a team led by Mel Slater at University College London (UCL) has built a surrogate robot whose actions mirror a person's body movements. Hold out your arm for a handshake, and the robot's arm follows suit. The bot isn't mobile, but you can greet people, gesture and manipulate objects. It is currently controlled by a bodysuit but, in principle, motion capture like Kinect could be employed to do the same job down the line, "and at a fraction of the cost", says Slater.
“For now, Anybots is pitching the QB to companies with remote workers. Currently, executives of those companies often meet with remote workers via video or teleconferences, or by having them fly in to the main office. But Blackwell contends that QB is a better solution because managers don't have to coordinate schedules so everyone is in the same place at the same time. Also, it allows users to wander around and have the more informal conversations they might have if they were actually in the office.”
“All calls to Anybots are directed to Suzanne Brocato's house in Martinez, about 60 miles from the company's headquarters. Brocato fires up one of the QBs from home whenever she needs to greet a scheduled guest at the office or to virtually attend a company meeting.”
I have written about the virtual trade show company Unisfair before
SAP has been hosting a marketing community meeting and over 2,000 folks have registered, and by attending the meeting virtually are estimated to have saved over 12,000 travel hours and over 450,000 miles - or 72 tons of CO2.
Several Enterprise Irregulars were among the presenters.
change the way groups of people meet. As a Cisco exec puts it "“This is life-size, with 1080p video resolution,..... The technology melts away and you feel you’re in the room with
the people on the other side of the table, down to the smallest facial
expression (on the 3 60 inch TVs)”
HP's is a cool $250K plus a monthly fee, Cisco's around $ 300K. Cisco also sells a smaller version for one-on-one meetings for $ 80K.
Not cheap, but neither are business class airfares, especially international. Not to mention the wear and tear and time away from office.
Expect folks like Kinko's, and likely hotels to also jump in to the opportunity. And if airlines are smart they should get in to their own telepresence centers. Can you imagine the loyalty is dad can come home for dinner and still get miles to take to faraway places on vacations?
Update: March 24: At VoiceCon I saw telepresence products from Polycom - in a larger theater setting. I also heard Cisco and HP are in discussions with hotel chains (HP with Marriott) and chains such as Kinko's to buy telepresence as a hourly "service". Finally, I saw the Siemens offering, which could be disruptive to this young market. While the others are offering A380s and 747s which work fine for "trunk" routes Siemens may be offering the 737 for the market to cover a much wider market. See my write up on Siemens offering here.