Just Like Being There

A new telepresence system brings the AFRL and its Contractors together

7 Ratings

A new high-tech unmanned aerial vehicle has crashed in the desert due to a technical failure. The team is understandably defensive, but you need to get to the bottom of the problem and find a fix ASAP. You don't have time to travel, but you need the trust and teamwork afforded by face-to-face communication. Poor-quality teleconferences and video conferencing aren't enough. You need something better. You need Voyager.

THE CHALLENGE

A new group of scientists, engineers, and managers from all across the country are coming together on a project to develop an advanced technology for the Air Force. They need to build a team that can work together effectively, now. That kind of teamwork takes time together in collaborative meetings, but they don't have the time, budget, or permission for that much travel. Conventional video and telephone conferencing just doesn't provide the quality of human contact they need for great team building and communication. The solution is Voyager: a new state-of-the-art telepresence network built from low-cost, off-the-shelf components to save the time and expense of travel while letting AFRL's scientists, engineers, and managers work together in a virtual environment that is just like being there.

WHY IT MATTERS

AFRL and its affiliates from around the country needed a way to meet in-person without travel. Without Voyager, distributed teams try to collaborate using email, phone, and conventional videoconferencing. Experience shows that these forms of collaboration don't build cohesive teams and often lead to poor communication, misunderstandings, and mistrust. There is just no substitute for being there, except high quality telepresence. Technology developers used to build teams and work together by traveling, but travel costs are way up and getting permission to travel is becoming harder and harder. For today's fast paced projects, you can't always take the time to travel. High quality commercial telepresence systems are too expensive or don't work on DoD networks. With Voyager, you can have a meeting that is just as good as being there with up to 16 people spread all across the country, today, without travel.

THE SOLUTION

AFRL did a study with a team of experts to find out what kinds of collaboration solutions are available to cost-effectively aid geographically-distributed teams. After filtering through hundreds of possible solutions ranging from off-the-shelf desktop conferencing, smartphone-based systems, and tablet solutions, the team made several recommendations. Surprisingly, they found that with a little creative work and innovative thinking, commercially-available videoconferencing systems could be fit into existing collaboration rooms and run on the government's new high speed network to provide a truly outstanding and affordable new capability.

"It was a real challenge to come up with a cost effectively solution that worked with the Air Force's network security and certification requirements. I am delighted with how it came out." — Joel Sercel, PhD

HOW IT WORKS

The new Voyager network configures off-the-shelf commercial videoconferencing gear in a unique way. This arrangement creates a virtual space for up to four groups of folks who can now work together just as though they are sitting in the same room. Way beyond conventional teleconferencing, Voyager allows excellent eye contact and nearly perfect directional sound. Acoustically and visually, users thousands of miles apart experience placement of individuals around a shared virtual conference table that makes you forget that you are not in the same room together. To save money and provide outstanding performance, the system runs on the government's Defense Research and Engineering Network or DREN, which has been set up to support exactly the kind of technical collaboration AFRL needs. To make the system as easy to use as possible, all the controls are done through a touch tablet interface like an App on a smart phone. Users step into the room, touch start to begin, touch the name of the site they need to connect to and it just works.

IMPACT FOR THE FUTURE

No longer will AFRL scientists and engineers have to lose days of work filling out travel requests, standing in airport security lines, sitting on airplanes and driving to conference sites. Instead, they just book a Voyager room, walk into the room, touch the touch panel and can instantly "be there".

The Air Force Research Laboratory

http://teamafrl.afciviliancareers.com

Dayton Ohio

The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) is a scientific research organization operated by the United States Air Force Materiel Command dedicated to leading the discovery, development, and integration of affordable technologies for the Air Force.

Joel Sercel Joel Sercel

Joel Sercel

Founder and Principal Engineer, ICS Associates Inc.

Alok Das Alok Das

Alok Das

Senior Scientist for Design Innovation

Timothy Bergeron Timothy Bergeron

Timothy Bergeron

Networked Multi-Media, A/V Design Specialist

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