TelePresence Center allows for global communication access

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Mark Benjamin

Rochester’s first TelePresence Center has been donated to NTID by Cisco Systems for researching ways the technology can be better accessed by deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals.The center allows for live conferencing with other centers around the world and uses technology that makes it appear others are sitting at the same table. Remote interpreting could be utilized with this system.

The RIT campus is now home to a Tele-Presence Center, enabling high quality, real-time video conferencing with people all over the globe.

TelePresence Centers are located around the world—including the White House— and offer videoconferencing that makes it seem as though everyone is seated in the same room, at the same table. Most centers are used by executives who find it to be a less expensive and more immediate option than traveling to meetings.

RIT’s center—occupying a room in NTID’s Lyndon Baines Johnson Hall—is Rochester’s first and the largest of its kind between Toronto and Albany. A smaller center is located in NTID’s Center on Access Technology.

Cisco Systems, headquartered in San Jose, Calif., donated the equipment, installation and engineers to create the customized 14-seat room at RIT, ensuring the audio and lighting match that in other TelePresence Centers. The donation—valued at nearly $700,000—was made to RIT/NTID as part of a Cisco Research grant so that research and recommendations can be given to Cisco to help improve its technology to work effectively for deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals. It is not available for public use at this time.

“We hope RIT/NTID will be able to find different solutions or recommendations to better assist people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing,” says Shraddha Chaplot, the Cisco engineer coordinating with RIT/NTID on the TelePresence donation and research grant. “And perhaps in terms of education, TelePresence would be a great way to have sign-language interpreters in a screen. They don’t have to be there in person.”

Two RIT/NTID computing and information students—Samuel Sandoval of Fairfax, Va., and Kelley Duran of North Fayston, Vt.—completed co-ops with Cisco this summer, helping the company develop products that are more accessible to individuals who are deaf.

“We truly appreciate Cisco’s donation to RIT/NTID,” says NTID President Gerry Buckley. “But we’re even more grateful to Cisco for its commitment to have its technology be more accessible to deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals. Partnering with our students not only gives the students opportunities to work with cutting-edge technology, but their findings will benefit countless others in years to come.”

The TelePresence room at RIT/NTID features three 65-inch monitors placed next to each other. There are additional monitors above and below those, which can be used for captioning, allowing participants who rely on captions to glance at those screens and remain a part of the conversation.

Sign language interpreters can also be part of the meeting seated at the table, or off camera to the side.

Cisco hopes the research done at RIT/NTID will help them solve some dilemmas. For instance, a camera used in the TelePresence Center can automatically be focused on the person speaking. But if that person uses sign language instead of their voice, the camera may not focus on that person.

The research is expected to continue at RIT/NTID through October when the college will present findings to the Cisco Research team.