By Corey Moss
As many are now aware, the Owl Labs ‘Meeting Owl’ has hit the street – we released the story on June 21st to go along with publications such as Venture Beat, The Verge, Digital Trends, Bostinno and AVNetwork.
The story actually begins here Two iRobot Vets Have Raised $5M for Their Video Conferencing Startup, Owl Labs where it was reported August 2016 in Bostinno how two iRobot veterans, including the company’s former Lead Roboticist, disclosed that they had raised $5 million of a planned $6 million round for a video conferencing technology startup getting ready to launch its first product. The article called attention to the website stating the “Owl is almost ready for public debut,” and it’s currently accepting sign-ups for a beta test.
Fast forward to June 2017, where the company had recently come out of stealth mode to bring the product to InfoComm 2017 in Orlando for private viewing, setting up for the launch.
And where I sometimes begin product launch stories with “after the dust has settled,” this one begins with an announcement followed by a single word…
Two weeks prior to InfoComm, I received a call from the representative of a small Boston, MA startup about a private product viewing at the show. I was in the middle of a few things on a Friday, the person gave me a short description of the product and I listened. Now of course when going to InfoComm, I’m always looking forward to meeting with the major players and seeing their product launches, and many of my appointments are of course set with them. There are times, however, when the smaller players’ story may pique my interest, and the description here about a must-see intelligent videoconferencing device did grab my interest, so much so I agreed to meet with them.
After our talk an e-mail came thanking me for the conversation and also specified that Max Makeev, the company’s CEO would be presenting the demo. It included embargoed press release details along with a map showing their location on the show floor. I gave it a read and found it all very interesting, including this statement from Ira M. Weinstein, Senior Analyst and Partner at Wainhouse Research:
“For years, the collaboration industry was in a plumbing phase, focused more on ensuring that calls connected reliably than on providing an optimal user experience,” explained Ira M. Weinstein, Senior Analyst and Partner at Wainhouse Research and co-author of Adding Collaboration to the Huddle Room. “Meeting Owl, however, is all about the user experience, and ensuring that all local participants are captured on camera, and that remote participants feel more ‘connected’ to the rest of the people in the meeting.”
It was the ‘connected’ part of the statement which became my focus, as one of the main concerns of any videoconference is just how connected remote participants feel during it. This, to go along with how it was detailed as a WiFi enabled IoT device designed to intelligently improve over time.
The Demo at the show
I received a call the morning of the 16th from the company’s VP, Sales and Marketing Dan Marchetto confirming the meeting at 9:30, and after arriving at the convention center I made my way to the back of the show floor (according to the map’s detail) and found a small gray enclosed room. I walked over and saw a plain white cardboard “Owl Labs” sign attached to it, knocked on the door and was greeted by Dan who welcomed me into the room. Upon entering he introduced me to Max Makeev, Co-Founder and CEO of Owl Labs, dressed casually as I was as well. As I walked in, I noticed that there was nothing really special about the room, unless you considered the small speaker-looking device with two light up eyes that sat in front of the laptop on the round table — truly resembling an owl.
The three of us began with a sit down discussion, Dan to my left and Max to my right. Dan talked with me about my commercial AV integration sales days as he’s been a part of the AV/tech space for over thirty years, and Max, a tech and product expert in his own right, talked about being a newcomer to the commercial AV space. He is an electrical engineer (a BSEE from University of Florida) dedicated to the growth and development of the robotics industry, spending 10 years with iRobot before forming Owl Labs with iRobot’s former Lead Robotocist, Co-Founder and CTO Mark Schnittman who has an MS, Mechanical Engineering/Robotics. Both are MS graduates of Tufts University.
As my next appointment was at 10:00, we moved right to the demo. I looked at the display in front of us where we each appeared in the frame below as well as a panoramic view above (as in the picture) as we all sat in a room which exactly resembled a huddle room.
We talked about the features, how it combines a 360° camera located at the top of the unit, 8-microphone array placed around it and speakers into a single USB plug-and-play device. The smart software provides the “intelligence” in terms of participant recognition in the videoconference, shown in the lower frame, as well as the simultaneous panoramic view at the top of the screen. It integrates with web-enabled video conferencing applications including Zoom, Google Hangouts, BlueJeans and Skype for Business. We discussed the IoT function (which is always of great interest to me) allowing the user to get software updates, new features and more over WiFi .
I was certainly impressed with the demo, how it showed the lower individual panel and full room top panoramic view, and the intelligent software tracked us perfectly. In short, no PTZ-like camera functionality here. The light up owl eyes as I was told indicate that a meeting is in progress.
Here is the all-in-one Meeting Owl:
I left the room thanking Max and Dan for the demo, and headed to my next appointment with the notion that I may have just seen something very special.
At 9:00 AM on June 21st when the embargo lifted and news of the Meeting Owl hit the street, I must say the response for this product launch was certainly beyond the norm – here’s a comment from one of the beta testers on the remote participant perspective:
While the demo at InfoComm did show certain proof of what this small “intelligent” videoconferencing device could do, I wanted to set up further discussion after the official launch to find out more. That meeting, with CEO Max Makeev will be in my part two.
Watch the team at Owl Labs discuss Meeting Owl video camera comparison.
With almost 20 years in audio visual integration and IT/computer sales and consulting, Corey Moss is the owner of Convergent AV. Corey writes for the publication and hosts/produces podcasts – The AV Life, The Edge of AV, EdTech Focus and The Show Corner. He has written for numerous industry publications about AV, IT, unified communications and collaboration (UCC), cloud and software, IoT, cybersecurity and more. He has also conducted interviews with AV and IT executives and global influencers.