Telepresence gets real

Cisco CEO John Chambers announced earlier this year that telepresence would be a multi-billion dollar product line for the company in coming years.

Cisco's not the only major player investing in the technology. HP has already injected telepresence-like features into its Halo Collaboration Suite. The companies may be on to something. Over the next decade, telepresence technology will find its way into virtually every major Global 5000 company, according to a report released today by Human Productivity Lab (HPL) titled "Telepresence, Effective Visual Collaboration and the Future of Global Business at the Speed of Light."

(HPL, by the way, bills itself as both an independent research company and a consultancy for the telepresence industry. The paper was sponsored by ATK Services, Destiny Conferencing, Digital Video Enterprises, HP, MedPresence, Polycom, Telanetix, and Teliris -- all players in the telepresence industry.)

As the HPL defines it, "telepresence is the science and art of creating visual conferencing environments that address the human factors of the participants and duplicate, as closely as possible, an in-person experience."

Deployed in telepresence studios, the technology employs high-speed IP audio and video, enabling users from disparate locations to hold meets as if they're virtually in the same place.

That may sound a lot like video conferencing, but HPL cites some advantages of telepresence: "life-size remote participants, fluid motion, accurate flesh tones, studio quality acoustics and lighting, true eye-contact or the approximation of eye-contact, and immersive and/or mirrored environments that establish a consistency-of-quality among disparate locations."

Those benefits aside, the report declares there's a potential cost savings to be had using telepresence in favor of having employees travel to far-off destinations. Travel expenses, of course, can vary greatly from company to company, so your mileage may vary.

To give a sense of the potential costs of telepresence, though, the report says the "solutions from HP and Teliris can run north of $10,000 dollars per month, per location. Deploying a site to an international location with limited fiber optic capacity can run as high as $40,000+ per month."

In addition to creating virtual board rooms for traditional meetings, the report states that "specialized telepresence solutions have been developed for diverse applications such as neurological operating rooms, pharmaceutical research and film production."

The HPL's report can be downloaded from here.