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Cisco and Hershey Working Together: Telepresence Candy?

May 6, 2013 | David S. Maldow, Esq.

cisco classroom

As videoconferencing technology has advanced over the last few years, it has become more powerful, but also more flexible, allowing for new uses never before thought possible. Hershey (chocolatiers and Cisco TelePresence users), recently created an extremely compelling, and even uplifting, use case for videoconferencing. This implementation would have been much more difficult with the limited flexibility and high support needs of yesterday's VC equipment. We spoke with Ed Schermerhorn of Cisco, who spent two weeks in Ghana helping set up a Cisco TelePresence endpoint in a local elementary school (see above), which is connected to a school in Hershey, Pennsylvania.

globeHershey obviously has a long history with the town that bears its name and hosts its factory and amusement park. It isn't surprising to see a big company involved in philanthropic efforts in their local community. But Hershey, Pennsylvania isn't the only town where the chocolate giant has a footprint and a longstanding community relationship. For example, many indigenous people of the cocoa growing fields in Ghana work for, or with, the chocolate giant.

Hershey wanted to create a bridge between the children of these two communities. Children are absolutely fascinated by different cultures, and Hershey wanted to create the opportunity for Hershey and Ghana children to learn from interacting with each other. Aside from the educational benefits, the kids are just loving the chance to make new friends. Ed described the scene when it snowed in Hershey, and the Ghana children saw snow (via video) for the first time in their lives. The children on both sides of the conference were clearly delighted and overjoyed by the experience.

hershey field ed schermerhornEd Schermerhorn and a Hershey Cocoa Plant in Ghana

Interestingly, Ed reports that one major source of difficulty in setting up the system wasn't video related at all. He had a power issue at the schoolhouse. The power went out regularly. It wasn't that the school had a power problem, it is a regional issue. In other words, that is the way the world works in that area, the power goes out sometimes. Those of us who live with 99% uptime on our power really take it for granted. With this in mind, they decided to install a small generator in the school. This was a wise choice, because 5 minutes into the first test call, the power went out and they had to switch over to the generator.

hershey buildingWith the power issue solved, the next major hurdle was bandwidth. There was connectivity at the local town center, but a microwave relay was needed to stretch the last mile from the road to the schoolhouse (left). Other issues included the fact that the open-air classroom didn't support an acoustically enclosed space, making the usual microphone configurations problematic (for example, local wildlife noises could trigger sound activated mics).

I can only imagine how much I would have enjoyed meeting kids from halfway around the world when I was that age. In addition to the simple pleasure of making new friends, this is also a huge opportunity as a learning experience for everyone involved; students, teachers, community members, even Cisco and Hershey. CEO John Chambers says that Cisco wants to change the way the world works, lives, plays, and learns. These kinds of projects are certainly steps in that direction.

About the Author
David_Maldow, Esq.David Maldow, Esq. is a visual collaboration technologist and analyst with the Human Productivity Lab and an associate editor at Telepresence Options. David has extensive expertise in testing, evaluating, and explaining telepresence and other visual collaboration / rich media solutions. David is focused on providing third-party independent analysis and opinion of these technologies and helping end users better secure their telepresence, videoconferencing, and visual collaboration environments. You can follow David on Twitter and Google+.

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