More than words

They say that body language conveys most of your meaning. Simon Jennings reports on a new technology that virtually puts you in the room with your remote colleagues

Never has the carbon footprint of multi-national corporations been under such intense scrutiny. Inter-city train journeys and long-haul flights to conduct face-to-face business meetings contribute significantly to greenhouse gases and the resulting strain on the environment.

The Anglo-US company Teliris has introduced a new video-conferencing technology and partnered with the Carbon Neutral Company, enabling corporate outfits to become more environmentally responsible. The innovation allows simulated face-to-face meetings to be held across continents without the time pressure or environmental burden of international travel.

Previous designs have enabled video-conferencing on a point-to-point, dual-location basis. The firm’s VirtuaLive technology, however, can bring people together from up to five separate locations anywhere in the world – with unrivalled transmission quality, it says. The technology sends a different image to each participating location so that each member of the virtual meeting sees the others from their own vantage point, as if they were in the same room.

The system’s success hinges on its unprecedented latency levels – the time it takes for the audiovisual signal to do a round-trip between two points. This speed ensures high levels of responsiveness, cutting out the jerky pictures and sound delays associated with previous teleconferencing systems. This means communication between users takes place at the same speed as it would if they were all physically in the same room. Sound and picture quality is also integrated via the system’s fluid motion tracking to such an extent that a user’s voice is co-ordinated in time with the moving of his lips. The transmission time has been brought down to less than a quarter of a second – the shortest delay perceived by the human brain.

According chairman Martyn Lewis: “Where humans were slaves to the limitations of previous teleconferencing technology, we now have technology that is adapted to human behaviour.”

Multiple cameras fixed around the plasma screens produce an interface between all meeting participants while the virtual-vectoring technology puts all meeting participants from all locations into the same physical environment.

Participants can be seen in full ratio size, while the cameras ensure that eye contact can be maintained between all users. The cameras are highly sensitive with tilting and zoom functions that allow them to portray a detailed three dimensional image of each person in the meeting.

The design ensures that natural movement and detail central to in-person communication, such as body gestures and head movement, are not lost.

“When you’re telling a subsidiary department in New York that you’re cutting their budget you can actually see their cheeks swelling and the tears in their eyes,” adds Lewis.

To enhance what Teliris calls its “being there” experience, speakers nestled within the desk ensure that speech is transmitted from the same direction as the person speaking. So users actually turn to listen to the person speaking, as if they were all in the same boardroom.

Basic systems start at around £40,000 rising to £100,000 depending on the number of screens and other customised requirements. A further monthly charge of £2,500-£5,000, depending on the locations connected, covers all usage of the system, 24 hours a day.

The technology can be installed in company boardrooms for large meetings or just in a single office for individual use. The system is connected in seconds by calling the Teliris network operations centre so a meeting can be set up on demand as soon as all locations are informed.

The VirtuaLive technology also includes a presentation system whereby a meeting participant can plug in a laptop and display material to everyone in all locations. The screens will even show all meeting participants turning their heads in the same direction to view the laptop screen, enhancing the authentic feel to the meeting.

Lewis believes that this piece of Teliris technology “will have the same catalytic impact on the corporate world as fax, mobile phone and email.”

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