A young Silicon Valley company says its new suite of digital conferencing products offers “a completely new approach to video and to cameras,” and at least one instructor says the technology has boosted classroom engagement considerably.
Altia Systems will be advancing its technology into the world of higher education with a new suite of digital conferencing products, announced Tuesday morning, that “amplifies the level of engagement probably by 10 times,” said Stuart Evans, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University.
The Cupertino, California-based company has launched an intelligent, panoramic video camera that offers a more natural, intuitive perspective of the classroom, Altia Systems president and co-founder, Aurangzeb Khan, told EdScoop.
Altia Systems has partnered with over 130 universities worldwide, including Carnegie Mellon, University of Florida, Stony Brook University and University of Idaho, in its efforts to improve digital technology across campuses around the world.
The product, PanaCast 2, is “a completely new approach to video and to cameras,” Khan said. “It’s an intelligent video system.”
The device itself consists of three individual, three-megapixel cameras, each set at a different angle.
Combined, the cameras create a panoramic,180-degree wide, 54-degree tall field of view, nearly mimicking the human eyes’ field of vision.
Complex algorithms are used to dynamically stitch the camera imaging together in real time to create and optimize the panorama for the viewer, eliminating the distracting and irregular distortion caused by standard web cameras.
“It gives you a very natural-looking perspective,” Khan told EdScoop. “If you think about your eyes, you typically take in almost a 180-degree view with your eyes. It gives you something that looks a lot like how your eyes see the world, and if you compare it to distorting lenses or fish-eye lenses, you’ll see a slight curvature in our video but it doesn’t have the huge recta-linear distortion and, more importantly, the scale distortion. When you look at something, it will look right.”
One of the most impactful parts of PanaCast 2 is the intelligent zoom feature, which utilizes the device’s multi-camera system and 180-degree field of vision to automatically expand the camera angle when another face enters within the 180-degree field of vision. Another feature that enables effective use in classrooms is the PanaCast Whiteboard feature, which, when prompted, automatically identifies content on a whiteboard, enhances and corrects the image and displays a second screen of just that whiteboard on the monitor.
Evans, a distinguished service professor at Carnegie Mellon, said he has used PanaCast 2 with great success in his classes, where he has had the unique challenge of teaching remotely to students in a long, thin classroom that did not lend itself well to the distorted view of regular cameras.
“I’d never really been able to see the whole class in Pittsburgh when I was teaching from California, and likewise, when I was back in Pittsburgh, I couldn’t see the whole class in California,” Evans told EdScoop. “One immediate benefit [of PanaCast 2] was just being able to see the whole classroom — and that was massive.”