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Immersion: The Future of Conferencing?

Many have used the Xbox Kinect to enjoy full-body gaming experiences. Now a newer Chicago-based company, Personify, is leveraging Kinect-like video and related "user extraction" technology to improve the way that conferencing is performed for the enterprise.

Personify uses Intel RealSense, a concept and technology similar to Kinect's, to provide conferencing users with more capabilities for interacting.

Here's how Intel describes RealSense:

Redefining how you control your devices, the Intel® RealSense™ 3D Camera enables new ways to interact in gaming, entertainment, and content creation. Featuring full 1080p color and a best-in-class depth sensor, the camera gives PCs and tablets 3D vision for new, immersive experiences. Interact more intuitively with facial recognition, emotion tracking, 3D scanning, and background extraction, or use 10-finger gesture recognition for agile device control.

Elevating the Video Experience
While conferencing has already significantly impacted the enterprise by providing ways to connect outside of traditional face-to-face communication, existing solutions leave plenty of room for improvement. Personify is seizing that opportunity.

In the typical conference, you see participants in their separate boxes on your screen. Personify saw an opportunity to free up some of that valuable "screen real estate," and uses high-tech "depth sensing" cameras to eliminate the usual boxes. The system extracts the user's body outline, or "persona" as the company calls them, freeing up all the extra space above and around a person that would usually just take up room on the screen. The participants' personas are then projected on top of whatever document or background makes the most sense for that particular meeting.


Subtracting unnecessary backgrounds from the equation allows for a new type of collaboration. For the first iteration of its system, Personify is using a one-to-many model, allowing one user to "personify" himself and share the screen for a presentation during a Web conference.

Use cases for such solutions can range from anything from internal and external collaboration, to marketing meetings, customer support, and training sessions. Imagine giving a Web presentation about a new product during which you can be placed directly in front of the content you are presenting, as demonstrated by the picture below showing an online sales presentation.


Personas can be embedded into a PowerPoint slide show or something of the like, and the solution works with Web conferencing tools that are already common and popular in the enterprise, including WebEx, Microsoft Lync and GoToMeeting. These tools support screen sharing at a good frame rate, which enables the persona on top of your desktop content to be seamlessly shared with your audience.

This single user version is available currently, and the company also has a version in testing which would allow multiple personas to participate in a conference simultaneously.

As manufacturers of PCs, tablets, laptops and smart phones work to include depth sensing cameras in more models, the potential is certainly there for this sort of conferencing to really take off in the enterprise. With the technology in more devices and in more business hands, user expectations for conferencing will only rise. To meet these higher expectations, it makes sense that a more immersive, elevated conferencing experience could become more of the standard.

Having recently had the opportunity to demo the technology and discuss it with CEO Sanjay Patel and VP of sales and marketing David Dahlberg, I can say that the concept of immersive collaboration is exciting and a potential game changer. If you've ever used Google apps to collaborate in your business, you may have run into the issue where you are in a video Hangout with the team and have to switch windows in order to work on a document together. Personify's solution would eliminate this need by essentially projecting personas on top of the document in question. This creates a more immersive collaboration experience, also saving time and boosting productivity – something I could see many businesses getting behind.