Millions of meetings take place every day in the U.S., incurring a tremendous cost in terms of managers’ and employees’ precious time and salary. To create smart service systems for facilitating long-term technical group meetings, a team of researchers at Rensselaer and industrial partners, led by computer vision expert Richard Radke, is working to design intelligent rooms. The new project, titled “Multimodal-Sensor-Enabled Environments with Advanced Cognitive Computing Enabling Smart Group Meeting Facilitation Services,” is supported by a recently announced $1 million award from the National Science Foundation Partnership for Innovation: Building Innovation Capacity program.
“Group meetings suffer from serious problems that undermine productivity and collegiality, including overt or unconscious bias, ‘groupthink,’ fear of speaking, and unfocused discussion,” said Radke, who also serves as deputy director of the NSF Engineering Research Center for Lighting Enabled Systems & Applications (LESA), and professor of electrical, computer, and systems engineering. “Few automatic tools exist for keeping meetings on track, accurately recording who said what, and making group discussions more productive. The goal of this research is to design intelligent rooms that provide facilitation services by identifying meeting participants, understanding their conversations, summarizing discussions, and helping the group efficiently get through an agenda, all without requiring the participants to wear microphones or other sensors.”
The project will create smart service systems for facilitating long-term technical group meetings using two Rensselaer campus test beds previously funded by NSF, LESA’s “Smart Conference Room” and the Collaborative-Research Augmented Immersive Virtual Environment (CRAIVE) Lab. The test beds will be instrumented with advanced time-of-flight sensing systems, for which LESA was recently awarded a U.S. patent, along with custom-made beam-forming microphones and award-winning natural language-understanding algorithms, allowing clear speech to be tagged to the participants as they move about.
Group meetings suffer from serious problems that undermine productivity and collegiality, including overt or unconscious bias, ‘groupthink,’ fear of speaking, and unfocused discussion. Few automatic tools exist for keeping meetings on track, accurately recording who said what, and making group discussions more productive.”—Rich Radke
Additional members of the Rensselaer team include: Heng Ji, Edward P. Hamilton Development Chair Associate Professor in the Department of Computer Science; Jonas Braasch, associate professor in the School of Architecture and director of the Center for Cognition, Communication, and Culture; and LESA Director Robert Karlicek, who also serves as a professor in the Department of Electrical, Computer, and Systems Engineering. The primary industrial partners are IBM Research and Heptagon Advanced MicroOptics. The award is partially supported by funds from the NSF Directorate for Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE) and the Divisions of Information and Intelligent Systems (IIS) and Computer and Network Systems (CNS).
Industry and university partnerships through the National Science Foundation (NSF) Partnerships for Innovation: Building Innovation Capacity (PFI:BIC) program are working to advance, adapt, and integrate cutting-edge technologies into human-centered smart service systems. The program gives scientists the opportunity to partner with industry to test their lab-created technologies in everyday settings, and learn from the interaction of humans and technology.
A key aspect of the project is a multi-year study that tracks technical research groups as they hold regular, unscripted meetings in the test beds. According to Radke, the research may have several broader societal impacts. For example, any steps to make group meetings for complex, long-term projects more productive and easier to control would result in immediate economic impact. Additionally, the success of a service system that facilitates long-term group interactions could result in a major opportunity for technology transfer and a highly marketable hardware/software platform for collaboration in domains including business, education, and finance.
“The project will result in new group meeting data to be used by researchers in different fields such as organizational psychology and natural language understanding,” Radke noted. “The project will produce highly visible infrastructure for research and education that has the potential for greater public engagement with science and technology, and integrate naturally with the Cognitive and Immersive Systems Laboratory, a new joint venture between Rensselaer and IBM Research.”