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Telepresence in Conference Rooms, Research Laboratories and Now, the Living Room


TMCnews Featured Article

August 06, 2009

Telepresence in Conference Rooms, Research Laboratories and Now, the Living Room

By Amy Tierney, TMCnet Web Editor

It’s no secret that more and more organizations are turning to telepresence solutions to improve their business communications and help save on travel costs.
Educational institutions, too, are quickly realizing the technology’s benefits to create “face-to-face” interactions streaming lectures or running staff meetings to those off campus.

Now, a new use telepresence is breaking ground – this time at sea. Robert Ballard, president of the Institute for Exploration and explorer-in-residence for the National Geographic Society, recently spoke with NPR about how the solution is paving the way for this so-called notion of “electronic travel.”
The use of telepresence in exploration is one of the more extreme uses of the technology, which is slowly finding its way into the industry.
Ballard, pictured below, said scientists are building remote consoles to contact colleagues at various oceanographic institutes through a telepresence system when they discover something interesting. For example, underwater cameras are installed on cables in National Marine Sanctuaries. And those on land can access the system wirelessly in their homes and link to the pilot navigating the ship at sea thousands of miles away, he said. 
The solutions let users reduce travel and lower the expense of traveling to remote locations. What’s more, telepresence technology gives scientists and explorers, alike, a chance to see creatures and environments they wouldn’t otherwise.
“We went in and installed underwater cameras on cables so they could ride through the sanctuary,” Ballard told NPR. “And what we found was when we were installing the cameras, everyone ran away. But as soon as we left, all the creatures came back out, went up and poked their noses into the cameras.”
Officials from a Huntington Beach, Calif.-based provider of integrated video conferencing and telepresence solutions, said that Ballard’s use of telepresence is an important step in communications.
“Bob Ballard is pushing the envelope of technology to deliver an excellent research tool, bringing researchers and data together for frontline observation that can change and expand our knowledge base instantly,” BrightCom CEO Bob McCandless told TMCnet in an interview.
Before the emergence of telepresence technology, most exploring information was confined to pre-recorded segments on TV, or publicized in books or other print media, McCandless said. Yet, with solution and the current technology available, real-time collaboration among outside experts is possible, he said.
“The future of telepresence will allow everyone to have a fully immersive experience of remote locations in real-time,” McCandless said. “Of course, if we want the ultimate experience, we will travel there. On the other hand, with environments and experiences such as deep sea diving, or cave exploration, or even outer space exploration, places where most people cannot physically go, telepresence will provide the chance to have a real-time multimedia adventure people can control.”
“With advancements in the technology, such as mixing real-time data, and hyperlinks with the real-time telepresence broadcasts, people will be able to visit the Titanic or the Serengeti every day,” he said.” This will become our typical knowledge experience that we now get through the high definition television shows or online.”
Reconnecting to family
Telepresence (News - Alert) offers other benefits beyond cost savings and reduced travel. It also gives users like Ballard to explore, or conduct work from the comfort of home.
“What's wonderful about telepresence… is it's reinventing the family,” Ballard said. “You're able to spend much, much more time at home. Even in my business of exploration, I'm spending now more time at home than any time in my life. And I'm exploring more than any time in my life. So, it's a really a plus, plus.”
That home connection is becoming increasingly important
“By integrating his home and his research with telepresence, he is able to explore further and yet still connect with his family,” McCandless said of Ballard. “This is a key driver in taking what is now heavily used in the business world and research institutions and applying it toward everyday life allowing people to see, learn and feel more than just what TV programming or the Internet is able to provide them.”
Telepresence, McCandless said, is well on the way of becoming a permanent aspect of everyday life, especially in the home.
“Telepresence has the same benefit proposition for personal life as it does in the office, or in the research institutions,” McCandless said. “Being able to visit with family and friends instantly and (having) the feeling of being together in the same comfortable living room, without travel, stress and cost is a big advantage to larger or dispersed families. People are certainly on their way to adopting this technology. Well over 450 million people are already connecting through Skype, a lower level of immersion but certainly a proof point that telepresence in the home is the next step.”
But there are some challenges to overcome. Telepresence equipment needs to be adapted for the home, and networking costs must drop before larger adoption of the technology occurs. For now, telepresence has little impact on people’s home lives, but changes are on the horizon, McCandless said.
“Right now, grandparents are learning about Skype (News - Alert) to see their grandkids,” McCandless said. “Baby boomers are connecting with old generations of family and friends on Twitter, Facebook and MySpace and they are at the same level of technical knowledge as the younger generations of bloggers and social networkers. In the near future these little steps, coupled with the efforts of research such as Bob Ballard's, will cause a very large sea-change event that will alter every aspect of human interaction that will go beyond commercial interests and the benefits to research organizations.

Learn more about BrightCom at ITEXPO West — the biggest and most comprehensive IP communications event of the year. ITEXPO (News - Alert) West will take place in Los Angeles, Sept. 1 to 3, 2009, featuring three valuable days of exhibits, conferences, and networking opportunities you can’t afford to miss. Visit BrightCom at booth #202 in the exhibit hall. Don’t wait. Register now!


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Amy Tierney is a Web editor for TMCnet, covering unified communications, telepresence, IP communications industry trends and mobile technologies. To read more of Amy's articles, please visit her columnist page.

Edited by Amy Tierney

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