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The Brains Behind the Beauty: Cisco Spark Board Technology

- May 23, 2017 - 5 Comments

We couldn’t be more proud that the Cisco Spark Board has taken home the “Best of the Best” Red Dot Award. As product designer Torkel Mellingen discussed in his recent post, this award is a clear indicator that we’ve delivered on the promise we sought to make – a well-designed product that users would love to use. Great design is more than skin deep though. A well-designed product isn’t just about how it looks; it is also about how it feels to use it.

A well-designed product isn’t just about how it looks; it is also about how it feels to use it.

To achieve the amazing user experience you get with Cisco Spark Board required us to invest in a lot of technology that you cannot see directly. In many ways, this tech is the brains behind the beauty. There are three technologies that I’d like to call out which make the experience possible: voice track, space binding, and wireless sharing.

Voice Tracking
In traditional video-conferencing systems, high-quality audio is provided through puck microphones installed on the tables or by ceiling-mounted microphones. Both options significantly increase the cost and effort required to bring great collaboration technology everywhere. To combat this, we wanted to find a way to deliver great audio without any external microphones. This may sound simple, but technically it’s very challenging to solve.  This means that all microphones are embedded within the device, yet must pick up the voices that matter (and drown out the sounds that don’t) regardless of where they are in the room.

Our audio engineers worked hard on algorithms to do this, including using machine learning to train the system. The result is the voice tracking capability in the Cisco Spark Board. Voice tracking is a new technology that allows the Cisco Spark Board to “zoom in” on the active speaker in a conference room, picking up just that person’s voice. Background noise and reverberations are reduced so that the active speaker sounds great.

Space Binding
There are many digital whiteboards in the market today. But I think it is safe to say that digital white-boarding has yet to really take off in the workplace. When we looked closer at why that is, we saw that the biggest problem is that people could never figure out how to save the contents of the whiteboard. And even if they could, the number of steps involved made it far more complicated than taking a smartphone photo of the white board. This meant we needed to dramatically simplify the saving experience – taking it down to one click, or ideally zero. Enter space binding!

Space binding refers to the ability to associate the Cisco Spark Board with a Cisco Spark space. This does two things:

  • First, it makes all the content posted in that Cisco Spark space available on the board. Think of this as a physical extension of the Cisco Spark space into the physical world.
  • Second, it provides a digital location where the white board is stored and continuously updated.

Save problem solved! We then went one step further and integrated our Cisco Spark applications and associated cloud services with the Cisco Spark Board, so that the act of making a call or joining a meeting automatically performs a Cisco Spark Space bind for you.

The Cisco Spark app also has a one-click option to enable an explicit association so that you can walk into a room with a Cisco Spark Board and associate to it with a single click. All this development ensures that users can save the white board with zero clicks in many cases, one click in the worst case. (Read more about this in my prior post, “White Boarding in Cisco Spark: Always Yours, Always Live, Always Secure.”) 

Wireless Sharing
The final piece of brains behind the beauty is wireless sharing. Today, most people share their screen locally in a conference room by plugging their PC into the HDMI cable. This is fraught with problems and is a terrible experience. Its only benefit is that it works for anyone in the physical room – whether a company employee or a visiting guest. We wanted to eliminate all these problems by making this technology wireless. But – it still had to work for anyone in the conference room – including non-employees.

The solution is Cisco Spark’s wireless presentation sharing feature. This technology enables any Cisco Spark user, anywhere in the world, to hit the share button in the application, and present their PC screen onto the Cisco Spark Board – even if the user is on a completely different IP network. We made this magic work by leveraging the Cisco Spark cloud. In fact, when a user shares the screen, we’re basically setting up a meeting between the user and the Cisco Spark Board under the hood, using the cloud as a relay (as we would in any other meeting). This allows the system to work even when users are on totally different networks. Lots of complicated software has to come together to deliver this one-click of simplicity.

These technologies – voice track, space binding, and wireless sharing – are just three examples of the innovation that lies beneath the beauty of the Cisco Spark Board. Exceptional user experiences – magical experiences as my boss Rowan Trollope often says — happen at the intersection of industry leading design and technical innovation. Here, beauty meets brains.

Keep on sparking!

Learn more about the Cisco Spark Board.

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5 Comments

  1. Congrats to you and your team

  2. Congrats to you and your team. Keep up!

  3. Excellent article, especially the quote on "A well-designed product isn’t just about how it looks; it is also about how it feels to use it." A good-looking product with exceptional user experiences will not gain user adoption. Keep on innovating and sparking !

    Great Job. Congrats to you and your team. Keep up!

  4. For some time now I have made my living by designing and installing collaboration rooms with using Cisco technology and peripheral equipment including mics whether they be table or ceiling or even wireless. Whilst I can appreciate the design and ease of use that the Sparkboard offers it does make me think that having seen so many of our offerings become commoditised that the bespoke room is going the same way. I do accept that there will always be some higher spec environments where the Sparkboard is just one element but not some many of these compared to a standard room. Our expertise seems to get less relevant as technology moves forward.

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