Board talk

An ingeniously simple visual collaboration tool developed by Bristol technology company Appliance Studio has received the thumbs-up from high-profile guinea pigs Airbus and Arup.

The Meeting Wizard system, which is the product of three years of fly-on-the-wall research into how teams across a range of industries work together, uses pens and tablets to give each member of a meeting input to a common display.

Appliance Studio technical director Simon Lewis explained that the system is essentially a modern and democratic version of the ubiquitous whiteboard. While the whiteboard is dominated by whoever holds the pen, the new system allows everyone present to add their input.

Conventional video conferencing systems are, said Lewis, ‘upside down’, in that they tend to focus on video and talking heads rather than on the actual subject of the meeting.

The Meeting Wizard has been designed to import documents from a huge variety of applications. Essentially, thanks to a clever bit of proprietary software that looks like a printer driver, the system emulates a printer.

The common display was designed for collaboration when teams are both together and apart, and can also be viewed over the internet. The unit contains its own webserver and generates a web page every time a meeting is in progress. Members of the team in another location can visit this website and add their own suggestions to the visual display, using either a mouse or a tablet and pen plugged into their computer.

In trials Meeting Wizard has reportedly been well received. Lewis claimed that engineering giant Arup has used the system to quickly solve a number of complex engineering problems that it had been struggling with for more than a year. However, Arup said it was unable to comment on its use of the system.

Appliance Studio chief executive Bill Sharpe said that the Meeting Wizard is aimed not just at engineers, but could be used in practically any industry where people work heavily with pictorial information.

Lewis agreed that the facility to zoom in on, and move around, objects would make the device doubly useful to engineers. This capability, he said, is very likely to appear on a later version.

‘The feedback we’ve had suggests the current version is already valuable to people, which is why we’re moving straight into market with it,’ said Lewis. ‘The capability to zoom in and pan around is a clear item on the list of planned enhancements, but the system will be fully upgradeable once it is out in the field.’

The company, which in May won plaudits for a concept DVD recorder at the First International Conference on Appliance Design (1AD) in Bristol, has set up a licensing agreement for the Meeting Wizard with a collaborative tools company and a product will be launched later in the year.

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