A Smart Room to Boost Design Productivity

A Smart Room to Boost Design Productivity.

Environments that enhance collaboration between people are nothing new. For example, SGI's Reality Centers exist since 1995. But this prototype meeting room developed at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), the “Barn,” is a new example of an IT-assisted workspace specifically designed for brainstorming and idea generation. Computerworld wrote an interesting article about the “Barn”. Here are some excerpts.

At first glance, the Pittsburgh-based university's “Barn” could be any meeting room, with tables and chairs and a whiteboard. But take a closer look and you'll see cameras, projectors, microphones, speakers and electronic pens mounted on the walls and ceiling.

You'll see project team members log into the Barn by presenting wearable radio-frequency identification tags to an electronic control panel. They wear sensors that identify them and track their locations as meetings unfold.

Besides all these more or less conventional devices, here is the one that makes the key difference.

A student approaches the “Thinking Surface” — an intelligent interactive display built into a digital whiteboard — and sketches out an idea, which is then recorded in the meeting log along with her comments to the group. In response, someone at a table uses an electronic pen to circle a drawing on his PC, causing it to be projected onto the Thinking Surface, where it's also recorded.

Here is a photograph of three CMU students sharing ideas in the Barn on the “Thinking Surface.” (Credit: Carnegie Mellon University).

Three CMU students sharing ideas in the Barn

Here is how the system works.

When a decision is made or an important concept comes up, someone hits the TWI — “that was important” — button on his computer, adding a flag at the appropriate place in the meeting logs. A member of the group who was unable to attend can, via the Barn Web portal, later fast-forward through the meeting remotely, pausing at TWI markers. Or he can “attend” the meeting — or any past meeting — in its entirety, listening to and reading the meeting logs and studying images saved from the Thinking Surface.

The Barn and its Thinking Surface have been constructed to facilitate meetings whose goal is to produce some kind of design, whether software, hardware or a consumer product, says Asim Smailagic, a faculty adviser for the project. “It's for brainstorming, idea generation, knowledge generation and knowledge transfer,” he says.

It sure looks like a fun environment to work.

Source: Gary H. Anthes, Computerworld, August 4, 2003

[Roland Piquepaille's Technology Trends]

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