Oblong Technologies has introduced a one-box reseller kit for its new, entry level Mezzanine 200 series, making it easier than ever for integration partners to sell and install the company’s interactive, immersive, gesture-controlled, multi-screen collaboration solution. James Goulding visited the company’s London demonstration suite to find out more about the technology
The best way to experience Oblong Industries collaboration solution is in person. Failing that, you could always watch the 2002 film Minority Report.
In the film, Tom Cruise famously interacts with on-screen data, using gestures to zoom in and out, pitch and roll graphics, open and close files from multiple sources and move content, with a swooshing action, between displays.
This technology developed by Oblong Industries founder John Underkoffler seemed futuristic at the time. Now, it is in use in businesses across the globe. And you don’t even need special gloves to interact with content, just a handheld wireless wand.
Technology Reseller visited the Oblong Industries demonstration suite in fashionable Clerkenwell to see how the company’s Mezzanine technology can create more engaging meetings and improve collaboration between remote offices.
There, the meeting room is kitted out with a Mezzanine 600 series collaboration solution with a shared workspace spread across three screens in front of a U-shaped array of desks. There is also a traditional analogue whiteboard and a secondary display, called a digital corkboard, that can only be seen by people in the room.
The installation is completed by separate cameras for capturing the whiteboard and meeting participants; infrared tags on the display bezels that track the gesture wand used to control sessions and manipulate content (larger installations use ultrasound technology); and separate servers for the Mezzanine collaboration solution and Perception gesture control.
This is a classic meeting room set-up, typical of the dedicated Mezzanine rooms that all customers have. But because each system can support up to 36 screens and multiple systems can be daisy-chained together, there is the capacity to connect 100s of screens in much larger bespoke configurations. This makes Oblong technology popular for war-rooms and control centres, as well as meeting rooms.
The typical Mezzanine room set-up clearly has quite a high physical and financial footprint, despite its ability to be used with generic screens and video codecs. So, for smaller meeting rooms, including team and huddle spaces, that you might find in satellite offices and SMEs, Oblong Industries recently launched the Mezzanine 200 series.
This more affordable offering supports dual-screen configurations and, in addition to the bezel-mounted infrared gesture tracking system, can be controlled by touch. It also gives users the ability to annotate multiple streams using touch, including graphics, live video and video feeds of analogue whiteboards in other locations. Annotations can be saved and delivered to the workspace for later reference and download.
With more than 45 million small and medium-sized meeting rooms worldwide, according to Wainhouse Research, the launch of the Mezzanine 200 series (and the compact partner kit) significantly increases sales opportunities for Oblong Technologies’ integration partners.
Mezzanine collaboration sessions are not restricted only to those with access to a Mezzanine system. Remote participants can join (and take control of) meetings via the cloud using a Mezz-In app running on a smartphone, tablet or notebook. In the interests of security, confidential meetings can be locked to prevent access in this way.
There are plenty of screen-based collaboration solutions on the market. What makes Mezzanine different is the ability:
to interact with content using natural gestures (meetings can also be controlled from a smartphone, tablet or computer);
to connect and view content from up to 10 devices simultaneously (including digital and analogue devices like a whiteboard);
to display content on, and move content between, displays, including the shared workspace and digital corkboards;
to transfer control of meetings and presentations between users;
for multiple users in multiple locations to make changes to and annotate the same document;
to save snapshots of the workspace as a PDF for downloading or emailing to colleagues; and
to shut down a collaboration session and then open it up again a week later with all the artefacts as you left them.
In the first iteration of Oblong’s technology, brought to market in 2012, users interacted with content using special gloves like those worn by Tom Cruise in Minority Report. Today you get the same functionality from a small handheld wand, like a remote control, that’s more familiar and requires less training.
Padraig Scully, who is responsible for training customers on Mezzanine, says it takes just two minutes to get to grips with the wand and about an hour and a half to become self-sufficient on the whole Mezzanine system.
One of Mezzanine’s key features is a bar at the bottom of the screen displaying the user’s selection of live feeds. Each system can have up to 10 live feeds at a time, which users can grab and bring into the main workspace to share with meeting participants – local and remote – at any time.
Additional content can be uploaded via a web browser or accessed from the Mezzanine Portfolio, which collects material relating to a presentation (e.g. slides, screen snapshots, whiteboard captures, annotations).
At any point a presenter can pass control to another meeting participant wherever they are, with their own selection of live feeds. The result, says Oblong director of communication Jennifer Üner, is a “super-fluid, multi-threaded, multi-user experience”.
Watching Scully and Üner passing control back and forth between London and LA in a demonstration arranged for Technology Reseller, it is hard to disagree with this assessment.
“It’s about collaboration. It’s equal opportunity control that democratises ways of working. It’s fluid, gestural, dynamic,” explained Üner. “A lot of people still think in serial mode, where one person presents and then sits down for another person to connect – this is more jazz and less solos.”
It is also very high quality. Support for high resolution imagery of up to 50 megapixels, combined with the ability to zoom right in and out (by gesture) makes it very useful for medical, technical and engineering applications, as well as corporate brainstorming and collaboration.
As working practices have changed, it has become ever more important for organisations to provide remote teams with an easy and effective means of collaboration. At the same time, there has been an explosion in data volumes and the variety of information that employees must manage and process.
Mezzanine is a unique and compelling solution to these challenges. Already widely used by Fortune 500 companies, it can now be enjoyed by small and medium-sized businesses as well, bringing new possibilities to Oblong Technologies customers and integration partners.
Oblong Industries is calling on organisations to meet the needs of employees – especially Generation Z and Millennials – by installing collaboration systems that provide a new, immersive method for visualising and interacting with data.
It points out that many existing meeting systems are let down by passive engagement, which occurs when employees are not sufficiently able to interact with shared content, or by technical delays that occur when blending disparate information sources.
In surveys of US professionals at this year’s InfoComm and Enterprise Connect events, 50% of respondents cited these drawbacks as obstacles to collaboration.
Oblong Industries adds that while the tools and technologies used for collaboration remain virtually unchanged, Generation Z and Millennials are used to multi-tasking while engaging with information from multiple data sources and would benefit from a more immersive experience.
Two thirds (66%) of respondents agreed that immersive collaboration technologies that utilise spatial, multi-dimensional or interactive components would help companies overcome complex business challenges.
Half of respondents said better collaboration and sharing of resources were the main reasons to upgrade or replace systems. More than one third (38%) plan to replace existing tools within the current fiscal year, with a further 25% intending to augment their existing collaboration systems.
Of those who plan to upgrade, more than 60% anticipate investing in technologies geared for smaller meeting spaces or huddle rooms.
Scalable to your customers’ needs
With four standard offerings, plus the option of bespoke configurations, the Mezzanine family is suitable for any application and size of meeting room. All provide Oblong’s defining features: concurrent viewing of up to ten shared devices; gestural interaction; and real-time control by multiple participants.
Mezzanine 200 Series: A dual-screen configuration for small-to-medium-sized rooms and remote offices.
Mezzanine 300: A three-screen configuration for viewing a combination of live video sources and content from connected devices. Simple juxtaposition of content across screens inspires fresh perspectives and innovative thinking.
Mezzanine 600: Three primary screens, like the 300 series, plus up to three additional screens that can’t be shared with remote locations and can only be seen by people in the room. The so-called digital corkboards can be used to display additional content or to stage content that will later be introduced into the shared workspace.
Mezzanine 650: Up to six screens can be configured as a video wall, with the option to add additional Mezzanine appliances to extend the workspace across more walls and screens.