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Feb. 4, 2010 Volume 31, No. 18

A new presence


The University of Missouri¿s new videoconferencing system - called TelePresence - can make it seem like colleagues from across the state are sitting across the conference table from you. Located in Ellis Library at MU, TelePresence can save money in travel expenses and lost time spent traveling to conferences. Rob Hill photo

Campus connections

New teleconferencing system saves time and money

In August, MU unveiled its new teleconferencing center in 106A Ellis Library, thanks to generous gifts from Gary Forsee, University of Missouri System president, Cisco Systems Inc. and AT&T.

The new TelePresence room allows students, faculty and staff to connect with peers at other UM System campuses in St. Louis, Kansas City and Rolla, thus reducing travel time and related expenses, as well as reducing the campus’ carbon footprint.

“At last checking, the number of hours the rooms were in use during the business day was about 47 percent,” says Terry Robb, director of information technology. He estimates that if three-fourths of the people who use the center had to travel to one of the campuses for a meeting instead of using TelePresence, theoretically it could save about $100,000 a month in travel costs and lost time traveling.

The state-of-the-art videoconferencing technology creates an in-person meeting experience over the network among geographically dispersed users by imitating a physical conference room.

Robb says the major difference between this technology and the older videoconferencing systems is that TelePresence uses three 65-inch high-definition screens on each campus, CD-quality audio, prepositioned cameras and microphones, and similar physical environments such as furniture, lighting and paint schemes. There also is an external monitor for laptop hookups for sharing spreadsheets or PowerPoint presentations.

“Because it is full size, the people on the other campuses appear to be sitting across the table from you,” he says. “That’s the beauty of it.”

The systems are sized to handle about 18 persons in each room. UM System has conducted one Board of Curators meeting using the four centers and fed it out to the Web. The meeting went perfectly.

“The curators loved it,” Robb says. “We were biting our nails a bit because it was newly installed, but it went flawlessly and saved people a heck of a lot of travel.”

Scheduling a TelePresence conference is as easy as scheduling any other meeting. At least two TelePresence sites must be included to set up a meeting, Robb says.

“Go to the Outlook Global Address List and enter TelePresence MU Ellis Library 106A,” he says. “Add other UM sites as if they were another human being attending the meeting. The e-mail server automatically communicates with TelePresence and reserves the room and the system for you. When you arrive at Ellis, go to the phone sitting on the table in front of the system, find your meeting on the phone screen, press one button and you are connected.”

MoreNet at 3212 LeMone Industrial Blvd. has a smaller TelePresence system, Robb says. “It is a one-screen model and interoperates with our three-screen telepresences.”

The older videoconferencing sites around campus will remain intact. They are small systems that use a communications protocol that TelePresence currently does not handle. Robb says the Division of IT soon will connect the older video system to TelePresence to enable full videoconferencing.

“We have to add a gateway device between older systems and TelePresence to translate the video in each direction,” he says. “The quality, naturally, won’t be TelePresence quality, but the systems will interoperate.”

The audio integration is performed by the same gateway, Robb says. Telephone users will be able to call into a TelePresence conference to hear the audio and interact with the conferees through the speakers. “Today, we have a speakerphone in the room for this purpose,” Robb says. “Once we add the gateway, the speakerphone can be retired.”

Using TelePresence is free; however, fees are applied when using audio conferencing to connect to nonTelePresence users. Technician charges are added for after-hours conferences.

With questions about the new teleconferencing center, call the Division of IT at 882-5000.