Damaka Takes Telepresence Mobile

This affordable high-def videoconferencing system works on a variety of mobile devices—even smartphones.

By Adam Stone | Posted Nov 30, 2010
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The momentum in telepresence these days is toward moving conferences out of the dedicated meeting room, with its expensive cameras and often elaborate set-ups, and into the desktop and laptop arena.

Vendors generally promise cost savings and ease of use for small businesses looking to leverage the tools of telepresence without bearing the expense of full-blown systems.

Richardson, Texas-based Damaka is already thinking ahead to the next iteration. The five-year-old company has developed telepresence system Kalisto to take multiparty videoconferencing beyond the desktop arena and into the mobile realm.

"The concept of bringing video from the high-def desk environment onto a mobile device is a specialty of what we are trying to do," said CEO Siva Chaturvedi, whose 45-person company also has an office in India.

The software solution is aimed at small businesses for the present, though Chaturvedi professes enterprise ambitions. He says the system can be a boon to anyone trying to conference with a mobile workforce.

Putting teleconferences onto an iPhone or other smart device requires a bit of juggling. First, the mobile environment can put the pinch on needed bandwidth. In addition, even highly sophisticated devices may not have the computational muscle to support the needed algorithms. Finally, some devices just don’t have the resolution to deliver a high-def experience.

Damaka has found workarounds for the first two issues, developing systems that can operate in a low bandwidth environment, and that go light on the computational side. As for resolution, Damaka has adopted a sort of laissez faire approach: Each phone device operates to the best of its abilities.

"Let’s say we are doing four-party calling with an iPad, an Android phone and a laptop, along with a high-end desktop," Chaturvedi said. "My desk and that laptop are in high def, the iPad is in standard def and the Android is in low def.

"Now we bring them all together. The high def still looks high, the low def stays low def. So the high def guys don’t have to give up high def just because there is someone low def in the call."

Issues of resolution notwithstanding, the larger question looms. Do businesses need this kind of mobile teleconferencing? Chaturvedi offers an emphatic yes.

"In the business world, high def is critical, but at the same time efficiency and reliability are crucial. If someone says, ‘Hey, I’m on a low def device, I can’t get into this meeting’—that is no excuse in the business world. When they are having critical calls with customers and colleagues, they might want to have a high def conference if they can, but it is more import just to have the other party on the call."

Taking the experience beyond conferencing, Damaka has built in some of the more sophisticated tools of telepresence, again overcoming the limits of the mobile milieu. Take for instance file sharing.

"Maybe there is nothing called PowerPoint on your mobile device; there is nothing called spreadsheet on your mobile device," Chaturvedi said. "We make it possible for the mobile user to view that document, and they can modify the document too, they can edit it or do whatever they want to do with it. It just continues to reside on the host, which is a laptop.

"All this helps in productivity, it helps in efficiency and that helps businesses to save money."

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