“OK, Google. Lights on.” “OK, Google. Lights off.”
Anyone who’s spent five minutes with a smart speaker reveling in their mastery over electricity knows what it feels like to have total control over a room. These smart devices have made it possible to check the weather, order a pizza, and turn on the air conditioning without so much as taking our hands from our pockets.
So, let’s have that power and simplicity at work. Let’s have our meeting rooms and our offices bow to our every verbal command. Let’s have our video conferencing room systems under the control of a single, voice-activated source.
Thankfully, it seems some of the leading video conferencing vendors, equipment manufacturers, and audio/visual companies agree with the idea. They seem to be embracing a trend toward making video conferencing easier, starting with the way we launch and control a meeting and, encouragingly for those who want a voice-activated world, the way we manipulate the physical room around us.
QSC and the Single Room Solution
One such expert pushing us toward a one-device video conferencing room solution is QSC Product Manager Mike Brandes. His company produces AV-to-USB bridging solutions that link electronic devices in a conference room to a single source. In an interview as part of VC Daily’s ongoing series The Future of Video Conferencing, Brandes said he wanted to use networks to reduce the amount of hardware in a room.
“People want to control all the video conferencing aspects, camera up and down, the screen, microphones, even the ability to raise and lower the shades–all of those things from a singular user interface. We don’t want a smattering of different brands of touch devices scattered around the table.
“We’re moving toward singularity. The future is platforms that talk to each other and integrate.”
By his own admission, however, Brandes’ solution is targeted at the IT department. It’s scalable and future-proofed to accommodate both hardware and software solutions, but it’s complex to set up and manage.
The next step toward a simple voice-operated video conferencing room is to build QSC’s connectivity into a central user hub.
Extron, Microsoft, and the Logitech SmartDock
And that, conveniently, is just what AV company Extron has done through a new partnership with Logitech…by way of Microsoft. In a concerted effort to make it easier to use video conferencing in general–and its Skype for Business app in particular–Microsoft has partnered with several companies to produce a series of Skype Room Systems. The first product of this kind was Logitech’s tablet-powered SmartDock. The all-in-one hub lets users launch Skype video calls with touchscreen simplicity, and uses sensors to fire up and shut down based on in-room movement.
Extron’s recently announced partnership with Logitech improves the power of the SmartDock, and extends its control beyond the video call connection. It’s a hardware solution that connects with the SmartDock and enables input from in-room devices and equipment. Control of these devices is then funneled through the SmartDock interface, giving users touchscreen access to cameras and microphones, air conditioning, lighting, curtains, and other AV devices, like screens.
That brings us so close to an AI-powered, voice-activated video conferencing room system you can almost hear the digital assistant’s stilted cadence.
Artificial Intelligence in the Smart Video Conferencing Room System
Of course, building voice controls into the SmartDock isn’t as easy as asking Microsoft to please share Cortana. Smart speakers such as the Google Home example mentioned above are complicated little units dependant on a steady link to the internet. However, Amazon’s Echo Show has already combined video calling with a hub device capable of searching the web, so there’s hope that kind of control could extend to third-party equipment like Logitech’s.
Should we reach that point, the next step is to enlist machine learning and have these AI room controls remember us and the way we like things set up. Cisco has a room system that can recognize users by detecting their smartphones or by looking at their faces through facial recognition software, and Logitech’s latest webcam, the BRIO, is compatible with the biometric technology Windows Hello, making it possible to get facial recognition on a consumer-grade device. It shouldn’t be hard to attach that identification to a profile that lists frequent video calling partners and room preferences.
Building on the existing hardware solutions of QSC, Extron, and Logitech and through the incorporation of current standards of voice and facial recognition–with a sprinkle of machine learning–we’re not far away from a day when you can walk into a video conference room, state who you want to call, and be instantly placed face-to-face in front of a colleague.
“OK, Google. Call the London office, and turn the temperature up a couple degrees while you’re at it.”
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