A little owl wins over our conference rooms


What at first glance looks like a cute grey loudspeaker actually has a great deal more to offer. The adorable little helper has big plans and wants to revolutionise the way we conduct videoconferences worldwide. The two minds behind the start-up Owl Labs have come up with lots of ideas to accomplish this aim.

Two round, bright eyes gaze curiously at each person around the table, closely watching their conversation. The meeting includes not only those present in the room, but also a person who has joined the session from elsewhere. Everyone is familiar with this situation: A video conference is planned, but how should the camera be adjusted to ensure that each participant can be easily seen? Chairs are pushed together and the camera is repositioned until finally a semi-satisfactory solution is found. This is an everyday situation and can be found in many companies worldwide. Thanks to the founders of American start-up Owl Labs, Max Makeev and Mark Schnittman, what was once a veritable jumble of voices for participants and required acrobatics by all those attending has now become a pleasant session in which even digital participants can easily keep track of the discussion. And all of it thanks to an owl-faced little helper with an integrated 360-degree camera and speaker. The name says it all, as the two bright eyes of this ‘owl’ closely watch the exchange of information. With a fish-eye lens, the top-mounted camera not only delivers images in real time but also provides a panoramic picture of everyone in the room at the same time. The smart camera automatically focusses on the person speaking, displaying him or her in the frame. If several participants are speaking simultaneously, the frame switches to a split-screen that can show up to three speakers at once.
Anyone can apply the technology involved in using the smart owl, because it simply connects with a notebook or tablet computer via USB for Plug & Play operation. As soon as it is recognised as an image and audio source, it is ready to use. Among other things, the Android operating system can be used with apps such as Zoom, Google Hangouts or Skype. Incidentally, the Meeting Owl is also supported by Android inventor Andy Rubin. This smart owl is available for 799 dollars.

This article was published in The Produktkulturmagazin, issue Q2 2017. Picture credit © Owl Labs

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