The HP Labs booth was buzzing with attendees wanting to get their first glimpse of—and to try out—what the HP researchers have been cooking in the labs. This year is HP Labs' inaugural appearance at HP Discover, so the researchers are particularly excited to show off their inventions to attendees.
One demo that attracted much attention was the HP Labs ConnectBoard demonstration. Senior researchers Ian Robinson and Kar-Han Tan, part of the team that built Connect Board, described it as the ability to "carry out natural conversations and content sharing on transparent virtual windows."
A window into real-time communication
Imagine two people each standing at either side of a single pane of glass. Each person can write on the glass, can share documents on the glass and can clearly point to and reference places in the documents by drawing circles or arrows to highlight areas.
In ConnectBoard, the two people—or multiple teams of people—can be located anywhere in the world. Think of it like video conferencing. But unlike the consumer-level video conferencing that we know—or even the high-end Halo HDTV experience—ConnectBoard lets you interact in a richer way with the folks on the other side of the "glass" (the glass in this case being a video screen with a camera behind).
Like video conferencing, but so much better
The researchers are working hard to make this as close to real-life collaboration as possible. Robinson explains it as being able to work shoulder to shoulder with your colleague as if you’re standing together. You're both looking at the same document, you can interact with the same document and you can connect eye-to-eye (and at eye-level, not like when you're using a consumer video camera attached to the top of your PC screen—you're looking at your friend looking down at his screen, not into your eyes). "And you can't see where the other person is pointing," Robinson says.
This differs from HP Halo and other high-def video conferencing systems where you can't stand close to the screen/camera; if you do you'll go off camera. And you can't write on the video screen.
Pretty cool, but why?
Robinson and Tan say ConnectBoard could be used in a multitude of customer situations. Examples could be for online learning where a professor has to present to and interact with students, in medical scenarios where physicians could interact with patients or fellow medics, or within engineering teams.
HP is piloting the technology internally right now, but researchers hope to sign up customers as test subjects by the end of the year or in early 2013.
And if you're wondering whether the other person at the other side of the "glass" would see a mirror image of what you've drawn—no; the technology transposes the image before it gets to you.
If you saw the Connect Board at the show, tell us what you think in the comments below.