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WebChair: A Ruggedized, Simple, Affordable, All-In-One Videoconferencing Solution
Here at TPO News we have been heavily covering the growing trend of visual collaboration technology being used in more and more innovative ways. As we get better and better at the actual video tech, it becomes more reliable and flexible, allowing for new uses and opportunities. In other words, a few years ago we were happy if our videoconferencing solutions simply worked, but now we expect custom solutions for various applications.
One such custom solution is the WebChair. Despite the move in the visual collaboration industry towards BYOD and multi-use hardware, there are still many situations where a dedicated VC appliance makes sense. The WebChair makes a great case for the benefits of a dedicated appliance, when purposefully designed for a specific use and environment. WebChair is suitable for a number of uses, but its original focus was to help special needs children reintegrate into a school setting; providing a bridge back to the classroom.
The WebChair basic features and notable differentiators include:
- Ruggedized Case: This feature makes the solution well suited to be a shared resource in a school environment. Not only is it easy to fold up and carry from class to class, but when not in use it's camera and screen will be protected from children being children.
- High Quality Camera: The PTZ 20x zoom camera is a major upgrade from a typical laptop or tablet camera. The remote student's ability to look around the classroom creates a far more interactive experience, giving the child a greater sense of presence.
- Wireless Connectivity: The device supports 4G to allow for high quality communications, even where wireless is less than ideal.
- Wrapped in a Service: A VC device isn't much use without a service providing some sort of connectivity. WebChair supports everything behind the scenes. Remote users (students, etc.) can connect from any device (laptop, tablet, or even phone).
- Affordability: The WebChair itself is "rented" as part of the service. The entire service (hardware, training, support, upgrades, connectivity, etc), costs between 200-300 Euros per month.
The big question, in these days of multipurpose devices, is why we don't just recommend that students simply call into the teacher's laptop? That would work, but there are a few reasons why the WebChair model is superior. First of all, if you set up the teacher's laptop as a dedicated VC appliance, the teacher basically gives up the laptop for the day. Also, not every teacher is comfortable installing and configuring even the easiest third party video clients.
In order to be completely deployable to all classrooms, it must not only be "Press The On Button" easy, but it must be supported by a full service offering. Even if you do have an extra laptop, �and a teacher ready to configure it for VC, you still need a service to connect the device to the remote student. WebChair makes the entire purchase process easier by bundling the hardware with the service, support and training.
WebChair also beats out the laptop experience due to its high quality PTZ camera. Laptop cameras are generally designed for face to face (someone sitting directly in front of the laptop). This limited view will not give a student a full immersive view of a classroom. Being able to look around allows for more social interaction, as well as a fuller learning experience.
As a final note, I really like the new appearance of the Version 3 WebChair. It looks like a natural, kid friendly, part of a classroom. If it doesn't feel odd or out of place, which should make it even easier for the kids to adapt and adjust.
Investors should note, they are working on an enterprise friendly product, WebTable, to accommodate small working teams, and are open to investment discussions. This company has a deep history in telepresence, a soup-to-nuts offering mentality, and existing, successful products in the field. With all the pieces in place, it will be very interesting to watch what happens next.
About the Author
David Maldow, Esq. is a visual collaboration technologist and analyst with the Human Productivity Lab and an associate publisher 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 visual collaboration environments. You can follow David on Twitter.
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