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Wireless Video Conferencing – How The Smithsonian Went Wireless


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Nestled modestly along the shores of the Chesapeake Bay, the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC) goes about its daily business of finding solutions to grand environmental challenges that the world faces in the 21st century. SERC is the Nation’s leading research and education center dedicated to understanding ecological processes that sustain life on both land and the ocean. Over 70 percent of the world’s population lives in the coastal zone, which includes the Earth’s most biologically productive ecosystems, supports the majority of the world’s fisheries and provides vast reserves of oil, gas and other non-living resources. The SERC Campus serves as a central campus for exploring the environment with other research that extends throughout the world. SERC educators provide rich content to the public based on their research through distance learning, web-based programs and on-site visits.

Recently, the institution concluded that they could improve their ability to research the environment with the help of a technological upgrade. “What we really needed was a wireless, mobile video conferencing solution so that we could bring the unit wherever our subject matter was,” said SERC director of education Mark Haddon. SERC’s research projects are comprised of a variety of outdoor studies, which include shoreline and marine life research. “We wanted to maintain the integrity of the program, which focuses on learning about Science outdoors, so we were particularly interested in bringing the students right to the scene of the research, for maximum impact and an enhanced educational experience,” said Haddon. “The only way we could visualize this type of format was through video conferencing, but we were unsure about what would be involved from a product standpoint. We tried to set it up by using one of our old systems but it wasn’t practical. A wireless, mobile solution is what was needed but we didn’t know if such a system was available so we contacted our vendor IVCi and they configured and installed our Mobile Video Interactive Companion II (MVIC II). We use the system out in the water, specifically, on the boat and on the shore to study marine life; things like shells, crabs, plant life, etc. We also have future plans to begin extending our studies into the forest.”

The MVIC II is a mobile, wireless video conferencing system that provides two-way, high-end quality and performance in a compact wireless mobile offering. The MVIC II can act as a stand-alone video conferencing system or work as an extension to existing video systems. The MVIC II system that was configured for SERC can be rolled about the campus freely and uses a Polycom unit as the video codec.

Even before the wireless video conferencing installation, SERC had always relied on technology to improve the way they worked and shared knowledge with other institutions. “We are, in essence, a content provider to schools that have invested in video conferencing technologies, continued Haddon. ” It gives students from these schools the ability to visit the Smithsonian and learn all about different types of life forms found throughout our environment, without leaving their classrooms. The fact is that many school districts are looking for content providers with good equipment because it justifies usage and encourages more schools to get involved in video conferencing. Video conferencing has developed into an excellent way for schools to provide quality education for their students, regardless of where the subject matter is located.”

SERC has been using video conferencing for ten years but the wireless feature opens up a new world of possibilities. “The great thing about our current usage of this technology is that we really have access to true 360 degree video conferencing,” said Haddon. “We have the unobstructed ability to share what we see and hear in real time. I’ve never heard of anyone anywhere with this type of application.”

Recent improvements by equipment manufacturers and enhancements to related technologies, such as IP networks, have made video conferencing more reliable and affordable. As a long-time user of video conferencing systems, Haddon is very pleased with the changes. “There’s no question that the technology has gotten much better, said Haddon. “We no longer experience the types of connection problems we used to encounter. At one time, video conferencing was a very unreliable way to meet. Those issues are gone.” Added Haddon, “We’ve also learned that it is very important to work with companies that are highly knowledgeable in this technical area. It’s a specialized technology; therefore, you should only seek out specialists with the right experience and industry certifications.”

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For many years, Harold German has been recognized as a knowledgeable source for information on corporate branding methodologies. A director at IVCi, LLC, whose divisions include IVCi Audio Visual and HomeVision, Mr. German is a renowned author and contributor, with appearances in noted international publications such as The Economist, and on news stations such as CNN. Mr. German covers IP networks and the future of conferencing technologies.

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  • Posted On November 20, 2006
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