FutureWire - futurism and emerging technology

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

"Porta-People": The Newest Tool in Remote Conferencing

With all the talk of the mobile and global workforce, those who work outside the office often remain at a disadvantage when it comes to meetings and other forms of real-time collaboration. Conference calls only convey so much information, and those on the call -- as opposed to those physically in the room -- are often forgotten about in the course of the conversation. Plus, callers can only hear the discussion, missing out slides, whiteboard drawings, and other visual nuances.

To help solve those problems, Sun Microsystems has developed a "porta-person" device that allows a remote worker to more actively participate in meetings. The device includes a video screen through which the participant can show their face or display other information, stereo speakers, stereo microphones, and a camera that provides the participant with a panoramic view of the room. The device also pivots, allowing the participant to point it toward a speaker. "It's definitely a much more present' feeling," says Sun researcher Jonathan Kaplan. "Being able to move the box lets you grab people's attention, which is very hard to do when you are just on the phone."

No word on when the "porta-person" device could appear on the market. But with 14,000 of its 38,000 employees telecommuting on any given day, Sun might be its own best customer.

Source: MIT Technology Review