The next generation of computer interfaces will drive better remote collaboration


I have long believed that the evolution of man-machine interfaces is at the heart of our future. In Living Networks I described better Interfaces as one of the three fundamental shifts that are bringing the networks to life. For over a decade I have ranted about how the mouse is antediluvian technology for interacting with computers – a great leap forward at the time but something we should have long transcended.

Among the numerous blog posts I have written about the evolution of interfaces, in 2008 I wrote about how the user interface featured in the film ‘Minority Report’ had been created by John Underkoffler, who had designed the concept for the film.

Now Underkoffler’s company, Oblong Industries, has created the collaboration platform Mezzanine, shown below.

Oblong describes it:

Mezzanine™ is a remarkable new collaboration, whiteboarding, and presentation system whose triptych of high-definition displays forms a shared workspace. Multiple participants simultaneously manipulate elements on Mezzanine’s displays, working via the system’s intuitive spatial wands, via a fluid browser-based client, and via their own portable devices.

When laptops are plugged into Mezzanine, those desktops’ pixels appear on the display triptych and can be moved, rescaled, and integrated into the session’s workflow. Any participant can then ‘reach through’ the triptych to interact directly with applications running on any connected laptop.

Mezzanine is a powerful complement to traditional telepresence and video conferencing. It melds technologies for collaborative whiteboarding, presentation design and delivery, and application sharing, all within a framework of unprecedented multi-participant control.

Remote collaboration is absolutely the right application. Yes we definitely need better interfaces for our personal computers, including gesture, facial, and eye-direction recognition as well as of course speech controls. However the rapid shift to virtual work means that being able to collaborate better at a distance is becoming a central issue in productivity.

Illustrated by the large number of Telepresence suites that have been installed by large organizations at ticket prices often over $500,000, there is sufficient demand to support high-end, expensive interfaces on collaboration equipment if they truly result in more efficient work. In addition, the nature of the interface is suited to larger spaces and multiple screens. Later, related technologies can migrate to personal computing at lower prices. Apparently it will take 3 years for the cost to be suitable for consumer applications.

TechCrunch’s MG Siegler says Oblong Has Built The Future Of Computing. I’ve Seen It. Used It. It’s Beautiful. and shared his own video of using the system.