What if telepresence could be more meaningful and less present?
I had the pleasure of being involved with this project from pre-seed to current Series A hunting.
The fine folks at LeafLabs, who did some serious hardware/firmware for Project Ara, Google's modular phone, decided to use their knowledge and experience to launch a separate startup.
The idea is simple – teleconferencing is stuck mostly on small devices, looks crappy, typically isn't very smart, and doesn't particularly foster collaboration in a deep way. (Yes, I know there are several enterprise-level attempts, and smaller startups working in this space). Ultimately, the specific pitch is to make telepresence feel as "there" as a window in a wall, particularly between remote teams.
What if there were a wall mounted device, with stellar optics, that runs Android (with collaborative apps - task management, drawing, Pinterest, etc), and is smart enough to go away when you don't need it?
This is how it would feel.
That is the final pitch video, and I'll get into some details about the story and filming process shortly. But first let's rewind to what happened between the initial idea and what you just saw.
An idea like this needs time and money to develop. So a little under a year ago, we first had several conversations about the typical pain points of telepresence, what an ideal experience would be like, and then distilled the major points into five illustrations to convey the idea to investors.
We settled on these things: the setup needs to be easy, the devices should be smart enough to automatically pair and tile, information should be transferrable from one to the other, large interactive task management would be easy and useful, and augmented content, like speaker information and transcription, would be very welcome. Looking back at these, it feels good to see how much of this made into the video a year later.
So guess what? They pitched it, and got the funding!
The Real Work Begins
I have to point out that it was amazing to work with the people at LeafLabs, they have an awesome combination of hardcore MIT engineering skills and business acumen. And I can't speak fully to their efforts during this phase, but I'll share what I do know.
They got to work on building a screen with DSLR quality optics (in fact the final video was shot on the same optics as the device). And they got the video streaming at 4K resolution at 10Mbit speeds, which is approximately entry level home cable speeds, and is an impressive feat in itself. The combination of great optics and super high resolution is something that is hard to describe.
Prior to this, I hadn't given the quality of Facetime or Google Hangouts much thought. The experience is similar to when Apple devices became Retina resolution, once you see the older version it looks terrible! The picture is super sharp, the depth of field super creamy, the whole thing is many steps forward into reality. It looks like what teleconferencing looks like in science fiction movies.