Things are beginning to move very, very quickly with regard to the deployment of advanced technologies in a wide variety of applications.
As you may know, I'm very interested in the current trend toward cognitive (thinking / reasoning) embedded systems, artificial neural networks, deep learning, machine vision, virtual and augmented realities, and how all these technologies are coming together.
We're starting to see a convergence of these technologies on an almost daily basis. Take video conferencing, for example. I've used it on occasion over the years, but I've never really been all that impressed. It all seemed a bit "clunky" in a way. If more than two sites were involved in the call, for example, then a row or column of small windows would appear to the size of the main display, and it was up to someone at each participating site to decide which of these windows was to appear on their main display.
Thus, I was very interested to hear about the newly-announced Cisco Spark Boards -- 55-inch and 70-inch, 4K, all-in-one devices that enable screen sharing, interactive whiteboarding, and video conferencing.
But what makes this different from the video conferencing systems I've used in the past? Well, for one thing, this is more than video conferencing, because you can also write and draw on the screen. Anything you do write or draw appears almost instantaneously on any connected device, including other Cisco Spark Boards, PCs, and mobile devices, including tablets and smartphones. The system's extremely low latency means there's virtually no lag between what's written on the Cisco Spark Board and what viewers see on their remote screens or mobile devices.
OK, but remembering my opening statements, how does this provide an example of how advanced technologies are coming together? Well, for a start, the Cisco Spark Board is powered by NVIDIA's Jetson TX1 visual and AI computing platform.
The Jetson TX1 boasts 64-bit ARM A57 CPUs, a 1 teraflop per second 256-core Maxwell GPU, the ability to simultaneously encode and decode 4K H,265 video, up to six camera inputs, 4GB of LPDDR4 memory and 16GB of eMMC storage, 1 Gigabit Ethernet, WI-FI and Bluetooth ready, and... the list goes on.
Smaller than a credit card and consuming less than 10W, the Jetson TX1 embedded visual computing platform features GPU-accelerated parallel processing that provides high-performance, low-energy computing that's ideal for deep learning and computer vision applications.
In addition to handling all of the core multimedia activities, the system also monitors what's going on, determines which participant is currently doing the most significant talking, and presents that participant on everyone else's screens.
The Jetson TX1-powered Cisco Spark Board boasts a lot of other very clever features. For example, although I've never experienced write or draw capability on a video conferencing system, I have used those local interactive board displays where a bunch of you can brain-stem-storm together and then print out a copy of your creation. One thing that always bugged me about these is that you all shared a single stylus and you had to change the color of the stylus by selecting from a palette on the screen.
Personally, if I'm drawing on a whiteboard, I prefer to have a bunch of different colored pens in my hand and to swap back and forth as required. I was really impressed to discover that you can replicate this functionality on the Cisco Spark Board, which supports multiple styluses (should that be styli?) and can automatically detect which stylus someone is using and display the color that's currently associated with that stylus (this also means that multiple people can write on the screen with their own stylus / color).
Also of interest is that fact that everything that takes place during a session is recorded and stored in the cloud. This means that the participants can take a break and return -- perhaps days or weeks -- later to pick up where they left off. Also, any writings and drawings created during the course of one of these sessions can be accessed and downloaded and/or printed at any time as required.
At some stage in the (not-so-distant) future, I think we will hold meetings using virtual/augmented reality headsets that give us the impression we are all in the same virtual room writing on the same virtual whiteboard. Until that happy day arrives, however, the NVIDIA Jetson TX1-powered Cisco Spark Board sets the current standard in video conferencing and collaboration.
— Max Maxfield, Editor of All Things Fun & Interesting