Advanced Collaboration, Shared Visualization and HCI  

Collaborative and interactive information technologies are critical to modern research and learning, but the science of how to build systems that link people together to work effectively is still in its infancy.  CoLab represents the beginning of a facility  to study how people teach, learn and work together using technology , whether located face-to-face or via the Internet.  Participants can use a combination of state of the art shared interactive screens, multimedia conferencing, wireless handheld devices, standard computers  and paper-based tools. What we learn about how these systems enable, impede and reform collaboration in different contexts will inform the next generation of information technology.

We are demonstrating three specific technologies that highlight the state of the art in technology-mediated collaboration and the sharing of complex information.

1.Multimedia/video conferencing using The Acess Grid  with the New Media Innovation Centre (NewMIC) in downtown Vancouver.  

Down at NewMIC, colleagues are running an immersive visualization of Rob Scharein's CaveKnots in  the virtual reality CAVE environment.  Video cameras are capturing the users and the CAVE display and sending it to CoLab over a fast Internet connection using a rich multimedia conferencing system called the AccessGrid. The supporting infrastructure for Access Grid comprises 3 computers: a display computer that displays the various participants in the conference, a video capture computer that captures and encodes the video images into data that can be sent over the Internet, and an audio capture computer that similarly processes the audio.  
"The Access Grid (AG) is the ensemble of resources that can be used to support human interaction across the grid. It consists of multimedia display, presentation and interactions environments, interfaces to grid middleware,and  interfaces to visualization environments. It supports large-scale distributed meetings, collaborative work sessions, seminars, lectures, tutorials and training. The Access Grid design point is group to group communication (thus differentiating it from desktop to desktop based tools that focus on individual communication). The Access Grid environment enables both formal and informal group interactions.  Large-format displays integrated with intelligent or active meeting rooms are a central feature of the Access Grid nodes. Access Grid nodes are "designed spaces" that explicitly contain the high-end audio and visual technology needed to provide a high-quality compelling user experience." (From http://www.accessgrid.org/.)
The AccessGrid is one of the core technology platforms planned for the collaboration infrastructure of WestGrid. While it represents substantial achievement in its ability to link together many groups of  users in different situations, it is still time consuming to configure, and limited in the richness of information and presence it can convey, due largely to the inherent limitations of video (the "talking head" phenomenon) and to the amount of bandwidth seamless video requrires.

2.  Serving advanced visualizations to remote users.

The MVS (Mathematical Visualization System) demonstration is actually running remotely on a powerful visualization server (VizServer) located at NewMIC.  `VizServer' is a Silicon Graphics Inc (SGI) product that enables distance and collaborative use of their high end graphics computers. We are showing the remote use of the NewMIC SGI Origin 3000. This technology compresses and sends the actual images generated by the SGI computer over the Internet. Even with reasonably high speed compression this uses large amounts of network bandwidth and today is limited by the available network speed between NewMIC and the SFU Burnaby Campus. Soon, when the BCNet Optical Regional Area Network (ORAN) becomes fully functional sharing of advanced capabilities becomes even more viable.

3. The CoLAB technology matrix.

The CoLab technology matrix is anchored by five Smart Technology touch-screen displays: 2 wall-mounted plasma screens, 1 high-resolution projected display, 1 table-inset touch-screen plasma display and a portable touch-screen display (currently outside in the CECM), meant to be used in remote situations and connected back to the CoLab. In addition, we plan a wide variety of heterogeneous handheld, wireless and standard computing devices. We shall illustrate the basic capture capacities of Smart Technology's boards.  These form the matrix for much of the planned research into technology mediated collaboration, for users and for observers.


Lyn Bartram - lbartram@colligo.com - Colligo and CoLab HCI Designer
Jen Chang - jen@cecm.sfu.ca - CoLab and CECM Manager