Technology Showcase: Interactive Presentation Technologies
Feb 1, 2005 12:00 PM, By Jay Ankeney
Interact with a projected or magnified computer interface with a marker or your finger.
For the past few decades, whiteboards coupled with dry-erase markers have served as colorful, cleaner alternatives to the classic chalkboard. More recently, these boards have been enhanced by digital technology, and today a CEO can present growth strategies by drawing with a high-tech stylus on an interactive whiteboard that's connected to a powerful computer running the latest software. Now that digital sensors can provide immediate interaction between a writing surface and a computer, the modern concept of the whiteboard has vastly expanded our capabilities for group presentations.
Interactive whiteboards have gone through a rapid evolution in the past 20 years. The first step was electronic copyboards, which could scan the material drawn on one of its multiple surfaces and duplicate the information — similarly to the way a fax machine copies a piece of paper. These were limited to relatively crude reproductions, using either thermal or optical copying technologies. In 1991 David Martin, the founder of Smart Technologies, introduced the first truly interactive whiteboard, which provided touch control of computer applications on an LCD panel. It enabled presenters to make annotations right on top of standard Microsoft Windows applications.
With the slow speed of computer processing back then, this proved to be a technology in search of an audience. In 1992 Smart formed a strategic alliance with Intel, and this enabled further hardware and software development. Interest in whiteboards and their dry-erase markers accelerated with the growth of concerns about the impact of chalk dust on the health of students and computers.
Modern interactive whiteboards involve some sort of drawing area equipped with a variety of sensors that can track the writing made on its surface. The most common sensing system is a combination of infrared and ultrasound sensors. This uses a “thunder and lightning” triangulation between the optical and audio locators to determine the position of the surface contact made by either a marker or a specialized stylus. Several touch-sensitive boards use a pressure-resistive membrane that can be written on with a bare finger, while some have an impermeable electromagnetic surface.
Another new technology involves cameras embedded in the corners of the board to track the marks made upon its surface. Generally this “written” information is fed back to a video projector mounted in either a front- or rear-projection configuration. The output of a desktop or laptop computer is shined onto the writing surface, and the sensors enable interaction with the computer's software, letting the stylus double as a remote mouse. This surface can indeed be a basic whiteboard, but with recent advances it can also range from a plain wall to a transparent window.
An elegant outgrowth of the development of interactive whiteboards is the emergence of intelligent transparent overlays that can be placed directly over a plasma screen.
However, a recent survey conducted by PolyVision Corporation revealed that the multifunction capabilities of today's interactive whiteboards can often lead to embarrassing confusion on the part of presenters, and as a result up to 90 percent are abandoned just a few weeks after installation. To overcome that complexity, all of the major manufacturers of interactive whiteboard and flat-screen overlay technologies are trying to make their products more user-friendly. So presented here are the manufacturers of interactive presentation products, with the focus on each company's most accessible operating features.
The Digital WallDisplays from 3M Visual Systems started as a purely display product, the 9000PD, so the company brings a new design approach to interactive projector whiteboards. As a self-contained unit, the multimedia projector in 3M's Digital WallDisplay 9200iW interactive whiteboard resides in an arm that extends out 30in. from the top of the 60in. diagonal board. The board is equipped with Luidia eBeam sensors. The 9200iW lets you capture notes in color and send them to colleagues via the Internet. 3M's 9200iC deluxe model, which functions as both a copyboard and an interactive whiteboard, can be wired to a printer to create hard copies of presentations even without a computer connected.
Alfher Porcewol is Mexico's largest manufacturer of porcelain writing boards. The company has recently developed the Alfher Interactive whiteboard using Luidia's eBeam receiving sensors — in part to fulfill the Mexican government's commitment to place this technology in all classrooms. This porcelain enamel surface, which comes with a 30-year warranty, is designed with especially low gloss to reflect the output of a digital projector with minimal glare. An especially useful feature of Alfher Interactive's intuitive software is its Bluetooth capacity for wireless communication with a PC.
Egan TeamBoard is a subsidiary of Egan Visual, which has been manufacturing interactive white-boards since 1994. Its TeamBoard white-boards, compatible with both Windows and Macintosh, utilize an 9600 baud internal controller no bigger than a deck of cards. This can be exchanged without dismantling the board or its stand. Standard WiFi support enables TeamBoard to connect wirelessly up to 1,200ft., and its exclusive matte-finish EVS (Egan Visual Surface) writing area provides a 160-degree viewing area that can be used with dry-erase markers without ghosting. Even permanent markers can be eradicated from the EVS without residual marks. The “DashBoard” of the system's TeamBoard Draw software provides easy access to essential interactive whiteboard tools, such as a virtual keyboard and mouse, while also presenting shortcuts for the user's preferred third-party software.
GBC Quartet is the largest U.S. manufacturer of dry-erase bulletin boards, and its Quartet IdeaShare line of interactive whiteboards features a premium porcelain surface combined with integrated eBeam electronic imaging technology from Luidia. This technology can transmit notes and images via Bluetooth directly to any PDA with Palm OS software. These notations can then be printed or shared live over the Internet or a corporation's own intranet. GBC Quartet even offers a special proprietary clip that can attach the eBeam receiver to a paper flip chart pad. Both Windows- and Mac-compatible, Quartet IdeaShare boards use a special stylus that doubles as a mouse.
GTCO CalComp's InterWrite Meeting-Board enables realtime Web-based meetings. A 25ft. serial (RS-232) cable and a 15ft. USB cable are included with all InterWrite MeetingBoards, and models with a “B” designation (example: 3175B) also include a wireless Bluetooth connection. InterWrite Software is compatible with Windows and Macintosh. GTCO CalComp's wireless electromagnetic InterWrite MeetingPad, an interactive tablet, lets any participant contribute to the presentation just as if he or she were standing at the MeetingBoard. Up to seven Meeting-Pads can be active at one time, and they can be passed around the room to engage the audience.
The StarBoard T-series of presentation technologies from Hitachi Software Engineering combines the functionality of an electronic whiteboard with an interactive LCD panel measuring either 15in. (the T-15XL) or 18in. (T-18XL ) diagonally. On these displays, the presenter can make annotations that are shown to the audience in a large, wall-projected image. The T-series package includes Hitachi's proprietary StarBoard software for Windows, a wireless battery-free grip pen, and DVI, VGA, USB, and serial connectors. Hitachi's latest products that are purely interactive whiteboards, the StarBoard F-60 and F-75, offer 60in. and 75in. display areas and utilize a combination of ultrasound and infrared sensors. In addition, Hitachi's StarBoard P-50X and P-55X interactive plasma displays feature up to a 3000:1 contrast ratio and a separate frame that contains seven infrared and ultrasound sensors. This fits almost unnoticeably over the screen's bezel, leaving the plasma display unobstructed.
Interactive Technologies (ITL), formerly known as Displaymate TouchScreens, is a specialist UK manufacturer that builds a resistive membrane into its Inspire interactive whiteboards (45in. up to 80in.), so you can write on them with your finger as well as a dry-erase marker. Used over the Internet or an organization's intranet in conjunction with videoconferencing applications, the Inspire interactive whiteboard enables you to engage an audience that's in multiple remote locations. Powered by Interact software, Interactive Technology's Eclipse interactive plasma and LCD overlays for flat screens from 20in. to 63in. can control attached computer applications and multimedia sources from one toolbar by simply touching the screen.
Luidia offers the eBeam Interactive to turn any dry-erase board or easel surface into an interactive whiteboard when used with Luidia's unique digital transmitter stylus and a digital projector. eBeam Interactive receivers can communicate to your PC or Mac either over USB connections or wirelessly via Bluetooth. In fact, after attaching them with either magnetic clamps, suction cups, or a permanent screwed-in bracket, the receivers can create sensing capability for almost any writing surface — even a transparent glass window. Combining two eBeam Interactive receivers connected by USB can cover an area 12'×4' (over 150in. diagonally) for especially large presentations.
The Interactive Presentation Manager (IPM) from Numonics Corporation is the first interactive whiteboard that uses a patented electromagnetic technology developed in 1983. It's integrated into a protective laminate with a matte surface to eliminate hot spots from LCD or DLP projectors. Twenty Softkeys (17 user-definable) located on both sides of the IPM give either Windows or Mac users intuitive control over its interface, and you can write on its 77in. active viewing area with a special Multimedia Pen that includes full mouse capabilities. The Virtual WhiteBoard software lets you write ideas in 64 colors, all automatically recorded as you write.
Panasonic Digital Document Company, a unit of Panasonic Corp. of North America, offers a large series of whiteboard designs, beginning with basic Panaboards. The UB-7325 copyboard offers four surfaces for writing with dry-erase markers. Either print using the integrated plain paper printer or scan to a computer. The UB-5310 model uses a thermal printing process to eliminate the need for consumables such as toner or ink. Panasonic's fully interactive whiteboard, the KX-BP800, uses ultrasonic sensors to let you integrate its output into computer applications such as PowerPoint. It can also teleconference the material to remote locations. In addition, the Panasonic Broadcast division has recently announced new touch-panel modules for its professional 42in. and 50in. plasma displays. These USB-powered touch panels allow users to interact directly with the screen via a simple finger touch, thanks to infrared sensors on the plasma screen overlay.
The PoinTech interactive whiteboard from Plus Vision Corporation of America utilizes both ultrasonic and infrared sensors. Both stand-supported and wall-mountable, PoinTech benefits from Plus Vision's experience as a projector manufacturer to provide a writing surface with no hot spot. The pump ink pen provides smoothly flowing ink throughout its life and allows easy erasure. Featuring intuitive icons and tools, Plus Vision's optional handwriting recognition software can translate your whiteboard notations into Microsoft Word or Power-Point files. With the PoinTech whiteboard you can even save a record of what you write to your PC and synchronize its images with audio to create an animated playback of the meeting.
The hassles of configuring different computer software programs to work with an interactive whiteboard have been eliminated by the PolyKey technology from PolyVision Corporation. Actually, PolyKey is a USB key that contains all the drivers needed for plug-and-play communication between any computer's operating system and PolyVision's new Walk-and-Talk Presentation Series touch-sensitive interactive whiteboard. The Walk-and-Talk whiteboard uses a Teflon-coated resistive membrane surface for dry-erase markers and can also be addressed via the onscreen keyboard. Also from PolyVision is the Walk-and-Talk Flat Screen Module, an overlay with infrared and ultrasonic sensors that gives interactive capabilities to almost any flat-screen display from 37in. to 63in. diagonally, using either a stylus or the Walk-and-Talk remote control.
The surface of the CleverBoard from Sahara Presentation Systems PLC is made of an almost indestructible vitreous enamel. It becomes interactive when connected to a digital projector, thanks to its ultrasound Mimio sensors made by Virtual Ink Corporation. CleverBoard 1 is available in 45in. to 92in. sizes, and CleverBoard 2, which comes with a USB 2.0 connector, ranges from 60in. to 92in. Sahara's CleverTouch front projection interactive whiteboards (60in., 70in., and 80in.) combine three presentation tools in one: whiteboard writing, flipchart, and projector screen. The CleverTouch system uses resistive membrane technology so you can write on the boards with your finger, and they can be connected to a network.
Smart Technologies' front-projection interactive whiteboards utilize a touch-sensitive membrane on which you can write either with your finger or the battery-free digital pens that reside in the SmartPenTray. Smart utilizes its own DViT (Digital Vision Touch) technology in its rear-projection and flat-panel overlay models; these involve cameras embedded in the corners of the screen's bezel. Smart Technologies' 3000i rear-projection mobile Smart board has a 66in. screen with integrated audio system and a built-in XGA projector. This system prevents the distracting shadows on the screen that are associated with front-projection systems. Smart also offers an in-wall system that's designed to be built into your room, with screen sizes ranging from 66in. to 84in. Smart Board software lets you save your work to a single file that can be run on Windows, Linux, or Mac operating systems or posted to the Internet for web collaboration.
Virtual Ink Corporation offers the Mimio Xi as a portable infrared and ultrasound sensing device that can be attached to any whiteboard up to 4'×8'. When connected to your PC or Mac and used with a projector, Mimio Xi allows you to control your desktop applications directly from the board. Even without a projector, Mimio Xi enables digital capture of notes or drawings that can be saved and integrated into other materials. Combined with Virtual Ink's 84in. diagonal whiteboard, it becomes Mimio-Board, an interactive drawing surface. Virtual Ink also offers Mimio wireless, a battery-powered wireless module that slides into the bottom of a Mimio Xi capture device to replace the LinkUSB module and provide a totally wireless connection from the whiteboard to your computer.
For More Information
3M Visual Systems
Egan Visual & TeamBoard
Hitachi Software Engineering
Sahara Presentation Systems
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