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The future is oblong

With the introduction of its new Mezzanine 200 series, Oblong Industries is bringing interactive, immersive, gesture controlled, multi-screen collaboration to small and medium-sized businesses. James Goulding visited the company’s London demonstration suite to find out more

The best way to experience Oblong Industries collaboration solutions is in person. Failing that, you could always watch the 2002 film Minority Report.

In the film, Tom Cruise famously interacts with on-screen data, using gestures to zoom in and out, pitch and roll graphics, open and close files from multiple sources and move content, with a swooshing action, between displays.

This technology, developed by Oblong Industries founder John Underkoffler, seemed futuristic at the time. Now, it is in use in businesses across the globe. And you don’t even need special gloves to interact with content, just a handheld wireless wand.

meeting room
meeting room

Business Info visited the Oblong Industries demonstration suite in fashionable Clerkenwell to see how the company’s Mezzanine technology can create more engaging meetings and improve collaboration between remote offices.

There, the meeting room is kitted out with a Mezzanine 600 series collaboration solution with a shared workspace spread across three screens in front of a U-shaped array of desks. There is also a traditional analogue whiteboard and a secondary display, called a digital corkboard, that can only be seen by people in the room.

The installation is completed by separate cameras for capturing the whiteboard and meeting participants; infrared tags on the display bezels that track the gesture wand used to control sessions and manipulate content (larger installations use ultrasound technology); and separate servers for the Mezzanine collaboration solution and Perception gesture control.

This is a classic meeting room set-up, typical of the dedicated Mezzanine rooms that all Oblong customers have. But because each system can support up to 36 screens and multiple systems can be daisy-chained together, there is the capacity to connect 100s of screens in much larger bespoke configurations. This makes Oblong technology popular for war-rooms and control centres, as well as meeting rooms.

The typical Mezzanine room set-up clearly has quite a high physical and financial footprint, despite its ability to be used with generic screens and video codecs. So, for smaller meeting rooms, including huddle spaces, that you might find in satellite offices and SMEs, Oblong Industries has now launched the Mezzanine 200 series.

This more affordable offering supports dual-screen configurations and, in addition to the bezel-mounted infrared gesture tracking system, can be controlled by touch.

Mezzanine collaboration sessions are not restricted only to those with access to a Mezzanine system. Remote participants can join meetings via the cloud using a Mezz-In app running on a tablet or notebook. In the interests of security, confidential meetings can be locked to prevent access in this way.

Super flexible
There are plenty of screen-based collaboration solutions on the market. What makes Mezzanine different is the ability:

to interact with content using natural gestures (meetings can also be controlled from a smartphone, tablet or computer);

to connect and view content from up to 10 devices simultaneously (including digital and analogue devices like a whiteboard);

to display content on, and move content between, displays, including the shared workspace and digital corkboards;

to transfer control of meetings and presentations between users;

for multiple users in multiple locations to make changes on the same document;

to save snapshots of the workspace as a PDF for downloading or emailing to colleagues; and

to shut down a collaboration session and then open it up again a week later with all the artefacts as you left them.

Magic wand
In the first iteration of Oblong’s technology, brought to market in 2012, users interacted with content using special gloves, like those worn by Tom Cruise in Minority Report. Today you get the same functionality from a small handheld wand, like a remote control, that’s more familiar and requires less training.

Padraig Scully, who is responsible for training customers on Mezzanine, says it takes just two minutes to get to grips with the wand and about an hour and a half to become self-sufficient on the whole Mezzanine system.

One of Mezzanine’s key features is a scrolling bar at the bottom of the screen displaying the user’s selection of live feeds. Each system can have up to 10 live feeds at a time, which users can grab and bring into the main workspace to share with meeting participants – local and remote – at any time.

Additional content can be uploaded via a web browser or accessed from the Mezzanine Portfolio, which collects material relating to a presentation (e.g. slides, screen snapshots, whiteboard captures, annotations).

At any point a presenter can pass control to another meeting participant wherever they are, with their own selection of live feeds. The result, says Oblong director of communication Jennifer Üner, is a “super-fluid, multi-threaded, multi-user experience”.

Watching Scully and Üner go through the motions in the demonstration arranged for Business Info, it is hard to disagree with this assessment.

“It’s about collaboration. It’s equal opportunity control that democratises ways of working. It’s fluid, gestural, dynamic,” explained Üner. “A lot of people still think in serial mode, where one person presents and then sits down for another person to connect and present – this has more jazz and less solos.”

It is also very high quality. Support for high resolution imagery of up to 50 megapixels, combined with the ability to zoom right in and out (by gesture) makes it very useful for medical, technical and engineering applications, as well as for corporate brainstorming and collaboration.

As working practices have changed, it has become ever more important for organisations to provide remote teams with an easy and effective means of collaboration. At the same time, there has been an explosion in data volumes and the variety of information that employees must manage and process.

Mezzanine is a unique and compelling solution to these challenges. Already widely used by Fortune 500 companies, it can now be enjoyed by small and medium-sized businesses as well.

Efficient use of wall space
Efficient use of wall space

Scalable to your needs
With four standard offerings, plus the option of bespoke configurations, the Mezzanine family is suitable for any application and size of meeting room. All provide Oblong’s defining features, including concurrent viewing of up to ten shared devices; gestural interaction; and real-time control by multiple participants.

Mezzanine 200 Series:
A dual-screen configuration for small-to-medium-sized rooms and remote offices.

Mezzanine 300:
A three-screen configuration for viewing a combination of live video sources and content from connected devices. Simple juxtaposition of content across screens inspires fresh perspectives and innovative thinking.

Mezzanine 600:
Three primary screens, like the 300 series, plus up to three additional screens that can’t be shared with remote locations and can only be seen by people in the room. The so-called digital corkboards can be used to display additional content or to stage content that will later be introduced into the shared workspace.

Mezzanine 650:
Up to six screens can be configured as a video wall, with the option to add additional Mezzanine appliances to extend the workspace across more walls and screens.

Business Info Magazine & Site is Published by Kingswood Media 2022