Today, team processes such as idea generation, complex decision-making, or expert-to-novice transfer of practical knowledge typically require the physical presence of all participants. This is mainly because today’s teleconferencing technology is unable to adequately capture, transfer, and display the mass amount of subtle information required for effective collaboration. As a result, many companies have rejected existing remote conferencing systems in favor of travel to collocated meetings, spending the extra time and money since this results in more effective teamwork.
With a collocated team, information is not only exchanged by the generated artifacts in the common task space, but also by the use of deictic gestures in the work space to emphasize or even replace the spoken word. Additionally, information is exchanged in the communication space, such as facial expressions, nodding or shrugging, verbal communication, eye contact, etc.
For an efficient brainstorming meeting with remote participants, all three layers must be captured, aligned, and correctly communicated. If only one layer is transferred, or transferred layers are not aligned properly, important modes of communication like deictic gestures become meaningless and the whole system’s efficiency is significantly reduced. Many of today’s systems focus on a support for generating artifacts on the task space, i.e. they offer new interaction devices to make the work on the interactive surface more intuitive and efficient. However, only a few systems have addressed the fact that the work space must also be captured, transferred and displayed properly. Thus, the MERCO project is a search for new ways on how to capture the task space, work space, and communication space by using off-the-shelf components only. We will propose a set of principles for capturing the work space, including communicating using nomadic devices such as tablet computers or smart phones. These principles will be developed compared to each other, and a user-study will show how well gestures in the work space are captured, processed, transferred and perceived by a remote partner.
Today, the basic technological components exist to create a multi-way communication system that includes all three layers of communication. By linking these components together with software, this project looks to successfully introduce its solutions on the market with collaboration from the involved project partners. While the two research partners (ETH, Chalmers) have a long experience in this research field, the industrial partners have complementary expertise. AVS is a leading system integrator for net-based communcation installation; Ericsson is a global player that will use and verify the system; and Semcon is skilled within the areas of human factors and remote collaboration, including requirement setting, interaction design, prototyping, user testing, and verification. The outcome of this project will be two new collaboration systems in hardware and software that can be immediately deployed by the partners to improve net-based collaboration, while the close-to-market-approach also guarantees a strong market launch.