A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away… there was a device called Microsoft RingCam:

RingCam: an inexpensive omnidirectional camera and microphone array designed for capturing meetings.

Hummm, could this be the missing link in Microsoft RoundTable evolution?

 microsoft-ringcam                      roundtable  

Can you notice the “subtle” differences on the video capturing head?

ringcam-head 20071004-roundtable2

Oh well, at least the computer screen display didn’t change a lot from those early days:

live-meeting-rt distributed-meetings

After some thorough investigation, I realized that Microsoft RingCam was developed as part of the Distributed Meetings project from Microsoft Research:

The project was initiated in 2001 in the Communication, Collaboration, and Multimedia Processing group in Microsoft Research with Anoop Gupta as group manager. Later Anoop Gupta toke the position of Bill Gates technical assistant and the research group was merged with Signal Processing Group in Microsoft Research with group manager Rico Malvar. The new name of the research group was Communication, Collaboration and Signal Processing.

Around 2003 a decision was made to convert the technologies, designed during this project, into Microsoft product. Ross Cutler left Microsoft Research to become architect of the new team. Microsoft researchers continued to help the product team. Three years later the product was named RoundTable and deployed for evaluation in most of the conference rooms in Microsoft. Now it is available for our customers and is the default client for Microsoft LiveMeeting and Microsoft Office Communicator. More information for this product can be found here. See Bill Gates and Jeff Rikes introducing the new product on CNN here.

Here’s a small collection of some of the technical papers produced, as well as an explanatory video about the use of the distributed meeting technology:

I also collected some news that were published around that time:

It’s really fascinating how the vision of some people turns into one of the most fantastic collaboration products available today. Microsoft RoundTable it’s just another example of Microsoft Research motto: Turning Ideas into Reality!

Trivia

Did you know that Microsoft invested $8.2 billion in R&D in 2008? Are you aware that’s more than the combined R&D spending of IBM and either Oracle or Google?

Here’s a small excerpt from the "Shareholder Letter" in its 2008 Annual Report:

"At the heart of our success lies our commitment to innovation. No company in our industry invests more in research and development or has the same depth and breadth of talented researchers, scientists, and engineers working across the globe to create new technology breakthroughs. In 2008, we invested $8.2 billion in research and development, an increase of almost 15 percent compared with fiscal 2007."