Friday, September 25, 2009

Toward Collaborative Interactive Meeting Spaces: Surface & Media:scape

Last night I visited Business Interiors in Williston, VT, a local systems furniture / space solutions company affiliated with Steelcase among other manufacturers. They hosted area Architects and Designers in a mixer celebrating surviving the tumultuous last year and introducing Mediascape and the Combi Chair. Jim Baker, BI President, shared some encouraging words and that he was feeling more optimistic about the economy and business activity.

Later while sitting around the Mediascapes interactive table and screen environment, talk turned immediately to collaboration and how it offered an effective resource to enhance group effectiveness and dynamics. Dave McGill, a visiting regional Steelcase Market rep from the Boston area shared how he seems to use it more and more when he visits showrooms and client in meetings. For him, it really jump starts information sharing and cross-collaboration between others at the table. Meeting participants plug in their laptops, adaptive mobile devices into the table to be able to share interactively on the common heads up screen whatever relevant info they need. Whether powerpoint slides, websites, spreadsheets, pictures or videos any content is fair game. Up to 4 screens can be seen at once. It can be web camera enabled to allow for video conferencing so different locations can see each other.

A sales team could come together and present mini-reports about their sales work with each other. Because of how visual it is, info can be rapidly shared and given the multiple screen capability, cross-connections between information, click-throughs to interesting websites etc. Sometimes the best conversations are a little less linear and more dynamic. Or a design team could have a shared 3d model saved on a common site and interactively manipulate it individually around the table. Reflecting on the experience, one downside I saw or limitation was how much wires were strewn around the table and how everyone were tied to separate laptop devices or screens while sharing one large common one. The table wouldn't really work for those of us who like to work with the table, lay drawings down and draw and interact that way. Like for instance, sketching or editing design ideas together, marking up documents collaboratively etc.

At the Media Scape table last night, I shared how last year I watched a briefing scene from the Quantum of Solace James Bond film and saw a highly interactive computer table used at the cinematic version of M1-6, the British equivalent of the CIA. (I may have reported on this in an earlier post) Owen Milne, Business Interiors Marketing and Environmental Resource shared he'd seen a something like that called Microsoft Surface. Ironically, he typed it up and it came up on the media scape screen where we looked together in excitement.

Surface provides a flat table interface where like Media Scape people can gather around the table top. I want Steelcase to design and produce a 2.0 version of Media Scape using this technology so we can do away with our individual laptops and roll up our sleeves around the collaborative table together.

Here's how Microsoft Surface really stands out (4 Key points from the website)
  • Direct interaction. Users can grab digital information with their hands and interact with content on-screen by touch and gesture – without using a mouse or keyboard.
  • Multi-user experience. The large, horizontal, 30 inch display makes it easy for several people to gather and interact together with Microsoft Surface - providing a collaborative, face-to-face computing experience.
  • Multi-touch. Microsoft Surface responds to many points of contact simultaneously - not just from one finger, as with a typical touch screen, but from dozens of contact points at once.
  • Object recognition. Users can place physical objects on the screen to trigger different types of digital responses – providing for a multitude of applications and the transfer of digital content to mobile devices.
You can set down your I-phone or other enabled smart device and its screen becomes an icon on the surface! I can envision a time in the near future where these kinds of interactive tables become common place in conference rooms or specialized media oriented meeting spaces. I looked at the site, right now it's glass table top which sits on a very large grey box which contains the souped up computer enabling the interactive magic above to happen.

Another regional Steelcase rep (Anita?) said her biggest challenge is getting potential customers excited about Mediascape and its merits and integrating it into their work styles. For so many, 30 to 50 somethings we're used to meeting around tables with laptops or other devices open some of the time but we're mostly still face to face. Based on past life-experience technology will only get more effective with time. The screens will continue to get larger, the supporting computing more powerful and smaller. This is the kind of collaboration environment, my children who are 9 and 10, will be using in their College libraries, cafe's, student activity centers. Eventually, it will become common place in their workplace's meeting and collaboration spaces.

For now, can the R&D people of Steelcase and Microsoft get together and start working towards developing better, easier and more affordable to use products? It would make a world of difference!

Meanwhile, it's going to be a while until I visit my son's at college so please keep the innovation going...

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