“We basically took an accepted piece of equipment and supercharged it by adding telemedicine and real-time diagnostics.”
That’s how Satchel Health co-founder Jay Politzer describes the creative process behind the development of his company’s medical mobile video conferencing carts. Designed for use by hospital nurses doing their rounds, the carts contain all the usual devices to check a patient’s status and vital signs, plus built-in, wifi-powered video conferencing cameras, microphones, and screens that can place a virtual doctor in the room within minutes. This means that should a nurse spot something unusual or unexpected, they can instantly get an expert eye to look over the situation.
With another little evolution, the combination of technologies at the heart of these “supercharged” carts might mean that one day they will be pushed around the corridors of your office. Replace the stethoscopes and heart monitors with a range of office equipment and you’ve got a wireless, mobile video communications cart that could let you stage a video conference anywhere, anytime.
Satchel Health isn’t the only company supplying the medical world with mobile video conferencing carts. The degree of specialization, however, varies among units. PJS Systems makes a model with a big HD screen that connects to a laptop, but doesn’t seem to have any features particular to the medical field. The same goes for the 4K mobile unit made by Panacast, which really strips things down to a screen and tray on wheels (although it does come with an antimicrobial coating). For the most part, these offerings look more like repurposing in order to find a new market, rather than industry-specific redesigning of video conferencing equipment.
On the other end of the spectrum are Satchel Health’s offering and those of Avizia Telehealth and New Zealand company Vivid Solutions. These units have features like integrated medical devices for real-time remote heart and lung monitoring and software that logs every patient interaction into their clinical history.
That kind of industry-specific design is how you tailor an existing product for use in a different field. That’s how the mobility, integration, and instant connectivity of the video medical cart can be brought to the average workplace.
Mobile Video Conferencing Cart Competition
There’s a clear appetite within the business world for the kind of mobile video conferencing these carts can provide. While video is growing as a form of office communication, it has been estimated that 97% of meeting rooms are not equipped with up-to-date video conferencing equipment. That means there are a lot of people out there with a lot of rooms to upgrade–and a mobile solution that can be wheeled from one place to another might be the answer.
The product would have to be more than a screen on wheels, however, as there are several types of affordable, all-in-one video calling units already pursuing businesses interested in taking their first steps into video conferencing.
These products aim to make video calling as easy as possible and fall into two main groups–portable units people bring with them, and semi-permanent devices that connect to existing screens.
The first is typified by products like the Logitech Connect and Owl Labs’ Meeting Owl. Both devices are small enough to be carried, powerful enough to comfortably capture half a dozen faces around a table, and are able to communicate in HD video. They spare the user the expense of fitting out an entire room with a full-scale conference setup of microphones and high-end cameras.
In the second group are bigger units, like the Logitech MeetUp or Microsoft’s new Skype Room Systems, that nonetheless thrive within small rooms and are ready to be used at a moment’s notice. These units are generally more advanced than their carry-on sized cousins and may offer features like 4K visuals, voice-activity detection, and greater zoom.
The advantage the video calling cart has over those models, however, is that the screen is included. If it could match the performance and easy interface of existing models, that might be enough to let it carve out a role in the average office.
Mobile Carts for Video Conferencing, Business-Style
Seeing as this cart is going to contain a TV-sizes screen, it’s going to be a large unit. To offset that inconvenience, we’d want to pack as many devices and features onto it as possible. Like the Satchel Health model it imitates, that means adding non-video calling equipment specific to the work environment.
So let’s add a printer and a scanner, and make sure the processing unit, be it a laptop or tablet, is connected to the office email and messaging system–and the workplace collaboration platform, such as Slack. Now you have a fully operational workstation, not just a webcam and screen.
The cart itself should be ergonomically designed so it can be used while seated–as a desk or for one-on-one video calls–or while standing, so you can set up a video call and then get out of the way as the camera captures the whole room. With battery power, wifi connectivity, and a wide-angle lens, a single cart could be shared across the office, and used in any space.
Beyond that, it’s a matter of assembling the requisite video conferencing equipment around the screen. Google recently cobbled together an all-in-one kit to help launch its new Hangouts Meet platform, featuring a 4K camera, microphones, a central hub, and a touchscreen controller for $1,999 that didn’t include a screen–if the video cart could arrive at a similar price point with a screen it might have a chance at hanging with such large competition.
Taking a page out of the medical industry’s book, we could all get to use “supercharged” office desks on wheels which could take care of basic office functions and put us face-to-face with anyone in the world.