Putting Telepresence to Work in the Real World

Low bandwidth, low power EspressoHD moves high-def video onto the shop floor, classroom—wherever it's needed.

By Adam Stone | Posted Nov 18, 2010
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High-definition teleconference: It’s not just for the board room anymore.

So says Joe Lam, co-founder and COO of XVD. The company’s EspressoHD product uses a proprietary compression technology to bring high-resolution telepresence into the desktop realm.

"There is a need for moving the high-quality video of telepresence to various areas with lower bandwidth and lower power requirements," he said.

Take for instance a manufacturing setting. "Engineers want to be able to see details in production line areas, even remotely," Lam said. "Now the engineer has the opportunity to see and diagnose the problem, instead of flying all over the world to the manufacturing line."

The same could hold true in the healthcare realm. "They want to have high resolution video on medical carts, where you can see symptoms over telepresence."

Founded in 2007 and based in Palo Alto, Calif., XVD entered the market with broadcast technology that could send high-quality video in real time over ordinary IP networks. The company landed television networks NBC and CBS as clients, Lam said.

Now it is focusing on the small to mid-size business market, with a solution that accommodates their low-bandwidth situations. Battery-powered EspressoHD can operate via T1 bandwidths, connecting via wired or wireless connections.

Achieving a battery-powered solution was a significant challenge. Battery power itself isn’t hard; it’s longevity that complicates the matter. XVD has looked at scenarios in which operators of medical carts require eight hours’ battery life, which is more than a typical solution would support.

The answer lay in engineering. "We wanted it to be a very low power device, so we optimized the system for low power consumption," Lam said. Among other things, that means designing the compression algorithm to do as few calculations as possible.

Likewise, the design team aimed for highly efficient start-up times, with systems powering up in 10 seconds, as compared to many minutes. This encourages users to shut down the system when it's not in use, thus extending battery life.

XVD already has real-world implementations it can point to, to demonstrate the effectiveness of the system, not just as a driver of efficiency but also as a selling tool to help SMBs get an edge on the competition.

In Japan, for instance, one customer is using the system to boost sales of its custom eyewear. The business invites clients to order on line. They then are able to stop by the store and watch a craftsman assembling their spectacles via a live link. They also can speak with the craftsman in real time.

"This provides live feedback on what they are doing in making this frame for them," Lam said. "The customers pay a dear price for this kind of customized eyewear and they want to make sure they are happy with the results, even before they have them in hand."

The competition for telepresence systems has been heating up, especially among those looking to provide lower-bandwidth, low-cost systems to smaller businesses. When the market shakes out, performance will determine the winners, Lam said. "Ultimately it is whether the customer can get what they need from the system in terms of quality and ease of use. Those will be the metrics the customer uses to measure the performance of these systems."

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