IDIAPs Mike Flynn: A dummy contributes to more productivity in the Smart Meeting Room.
Good managers tend to make for better meetings, but can technology also make a difference in having higher quality meetings? Swiss scientists at IDIAP (Institut Dalle Molle D'intelligence Artificielle Perceptive), a non-profit research institute located in Martigny, Switzerland, seem to think so. To investigate their theory, the scientists are employing several key technologies—including artificial neural networks, speech and audio processing, computer vision, and biometrics—to study what actually happens at meetings, and then they hope to make them more productive. "We can capture everything that goes on at a meeting, and then analyze things like whether or not the information exchange was useful, who dominated the discussion, whether or not the participants were engaged, and so on," says Mike Flynn, a senior development engineer at the institute. Gathering this sort of information may sound like a no-brainer, but in fact the IDIAP Smart Meeting Room that researchers have constructed on-site features an enormous amount of multichannel, audio-visual technology to collect and process the data. The list of information technology devices includes video cameras, wireless microphones, microphone arrays, synchronizers, recording software, digitizers, computers, even a "binaural mannequin"—essentially a dummy with protruding ears that contain audio receivers. Researchers hope that the kind of analysis they perform on meeting content will be useful for updating non-attendees, evaluating the performance of team leaders, and helping teach people how to be more productive participants in meetings. The information they discover could also prove invaluable for formal meetings like design reviews, when it can be critical to document the proceedings. Flynn says that IDIAP engineers have tried out the technology at their own meetings and made at least one discovery that should surprise no one: "We learned that things don't always go the way they're planned," says Flynn. For a look at a Smart Meeting Room analysis of some sample IDIAP meetings, go to http://mmm.idiap.ch.
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Two researchers from Cornell University have won a $100,000 grant from NASA to continue work to develop an energy-harvesting robotic eel the space agency aims to use to explore oceans on one of the moons of Jupiter.
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