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*Updated* Microsoft announces RoundTable (Formerly RingCam) a 360 Degree "Super Webcam"

June 27, 2006 | HSL

Microsoft Office Roundtable Formerly RingCam.jpg
Microsoft Office Roundtable (Formerly RingCam)

Microsoft announces a super webcam that captures a 360 degree field of view that will integrate into their Unified Communication's strategy. The 360 degree webcam will be called Microsoft Office RoundTable and will provide a view of remote participants seated around a circular table as if they were seated right next to each other on the screen.

Jack Schofield's complete article can be found Here. Excerpts Below:

Today Microsoft's Jeff Raikes unveiled the next stage of the company's Unified Communications strategy, showing the bells and whistles that will be added with Office Communicator 2007 (which comes as a desktop client, a browser-based client and a mobile phone/PDA client), Office Communications Server 2007* and Exchange Server 2007. Basically, with Office 2007, you can go seamlessly from email to IM to video conferencing to VoIP and mobile telephony, with only one client program and a single directory. Big companies are already doing most of this stuff, of course, but typically with three or more incompatible servicess, and several incompatible directory systems...

...The cutest part of the display was a teleconference using Microsoft Office RoundTable, which is a sort of recording super-webcam that switches automatically between speakers and can handle a 360 degree view. If you are talking to four people seated around a table, you get a videoconferencing view with them side by side, more like University Challenge. The product has been shown in Microsoft's Center for Information Work (CIW), its future-office lab, and will appear with the software about a year from now. (Creative Match has a picture of prototype devices from CIW.) It was originally called RingCam.

Microsoft RingCam Now Office Roundtable-1.jpg
Old RingCam Screenshot with 360 Degree View Visible

The demo teleconference with Redmond, which I watched via LiveMeeting, was on the mission critical decision, what to have for lunch. Some argued for the superior gastric user experience of Thai food while others praised pizza's hands-on interface: "what you see is what you eat," said one. And so on.

Click Play on the player above to see a video of the meeting recorder that captures video from the RingCam/RoundTable camera.

Microsoft RingCam Now Office Roundtable #2-1.jpg
Photos of the Microsoft RingCam in Development

Microsoft RingCam Development Team Page can be found Here.

The fascinating website of Microsoft Researcher Ross Cutler is Here.

HSL's Thoughts and Analysis

First, let me start off by saying that I am not suggesting that Microsoft's little plastic camera qualifies as telepresence even with a 360 degree capture and display. The technology that impressed me in this announcement was all in the backend. If you watched the YouTube video that I put up on Microsoft's meeting recorder for RoundTable you will notice it doing some some pretty interesting things:

1. Face Detection and Sound Source Localization - Figuring out which speaker is talking and automatically adjusting to that speaker while continuing to capture the entire scene in panoramic.

2. Meeting Timeline- As each participant speaks the software is generating a timeline that chronicles each speaker's contributions to the discussion represented by a colored bar whose length corresponds to how long the particpant spoke. This system is married to the whiteboard and each speaker's colored bar on the timeline is the same as their pen color when using the whiteboard.

3. Whiteboard Capture and Meeting Replay - When playing back the archived meeting you can jump to any segment by clicking on the colored bar generated as each particpant is speaking OR you can click on any graphic generated on the whiteboard which will take you back to the spot in the meeting when it was being generated and that concept discussed. Finally, you can speed up the playback speed without changing the pitch or removing pauses.

This is a spectacular little treasure chest of utilities that I expect to migrate into effective visual collaborative environments ASAP. The ability to easily capture and effectively index a meeting "on-the-fly" creating an easy to review authoratative record is the real story here... (The 360 degree camera is pretty kewl as well).

Some Random Thoughts

1. What format will the meetings of the future be archived in? The one that captures the most important information and makes it easily indexable/accessible. It is easy to see how Microsoft can further marry/expand the collaborative capabilities of their other offerings to become the defacto standard/format for archived meetings:

* MS Office Documents created during a RoundTable Session are also indexed by participant contribution
* Remote Participants using Microsoft Live Office to participate over the web and/or using Live Office to make RoundTable sessions available to all over the Internet.
* The MS Unified Communications platform simplifies launching a RoundTable session through integration with MS Outlook
* etc. etc.

Will my Google Desktop search be able to index recorded MS RoundTable Meetings? (Of course it will)

I thought branding the technology RoundTable was a superb choice for a collaborative technology designed to facilitate group work. The Arthurian Round Table was notable for its lack of a head with the idea that all the knights who sat around it were peers. Fitting for a technology with the ability to further the concept of meritocracy by making it painfully obvious who the true contributors to any given effort are regardless of their rank in the organization's hierarchical structure.

Hey Microsoft: Think outside the box...literally... While you obviously have to provide a commoditized version for every standard computer display in the US... What about options for those that want an enhanced experience. Can you deliver the image of the speaker that is talking to a life-size true eye-contact display? Can I devote the panoramic image to a larger format display? Can I integrate this with a telepresence group system? The potential applications are astounding..

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