Meeting Owl brings new wisdom to conferencing
Web, Video and Audio Conferencing

Meeting Owl brings new wisdom to conferencing

The dirty secret of the technology industry reveals itself every time a remote meeting is set up. Audio is scratchy, dial-in details don’t work, you need to install software and allow pop-ups, people talk over each other or forget they put themselves on mute so they can’t be heard, video can be poor and prone to dropping or stuttering… the list goes on (and on and on). High-end video rooms are great but catastrophically and stratospherically pricey. Fixing all this is taking a long time but one interesting attempt to improve affairs is from a Massachusetts startup called Owl Labs that offers a videoconferencing camera rig called the Meeting Owl.

I met the company in London to see a demo recently and mark UK availability of the system. Owl isn’t trying to provide a revolutionary response to all of the above problems, but its camera/audio hardware is innovative and attractive.

Chief technology officer Mark Schnittman is one of the dozens of alumni of iRobot, the hugely influential robotics company that makes the Roomba vacuum cleaner, and it shows. Schnittman told me he spent eight years at iRobot and that background is evidenced in the combination of high-technology with consumer-friendly packaging and usability. The hardware designers have undoubtedly made a solidly built (and rather adorably cute, I admit) device that fairly closely resembles the shape and 360-degree rotational head movements of that wisest of hunting birds.

Note again that this is not an attempt to reinvent everything in the meeting experience. The Meeting Owl works in tandem with Google Hangouts, Skype, Zoom or any web-based meeting system and its makers have focused on the video and audio hardware and setup elements. My impression was of bright, clear audio that’s driven by eight omnidirectional microphones and a speaker located at the base of the Meeting Owl. The Owl’s head swivels to the active participant who is speaking, and the system does a good job of handling the familiar hassle of more than one person speaking at once.

There are also some nice grace notes that show how deeply Owl Labs has considered the meeting setup process; there’s a simple USB connection with no software required and automatic product updates.

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Martin Veitch

Martin Veitch is Contributing Editor for IDG Connect

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