When I founded my first startup company, Solram Electronics, in Israel in 1995, I had a vision of conducting International phone calls over the Internet. At the time, I was paying $4/minute to make calls to the US (from Israel), so I created a product (InterHome) that allowed placing calls over the Internet, using your home phone, at the cost of a local call to your Internet Service Provider. To put it in perspective, this was 6 years before Vonage was created (2001), and 8 years before Skype was founded (2003).
Three problems "killed" the product. One was the fact that voice communications had transitioned from circuit-switched networks to the more efficient packet-switched networks, which helped drive the cost down dramatically. I now call Israel for 7 cents per minute.
The second was installation complexity. Although using the product was simple (all you had to do was pick up the phone and dial), setting it up was complicated. Connecting it to the computer, setting the IRQ and DMA ports (which you had to do under Windows 95) were too much for the everyday user. It was certainly not for the non-tech-savvy consumers.
But the third problem prevented even some tech-savvy, early-adopting users from using it to conduct calls. It was the "choppiness" of the Internet connection that caused voice to break up, and due to buffering--to have significant delays that were simply unacceptable.
I feel that there is an opportunity today to significantly improve consumer-grade video conferencing. As I started writing this article, I looked for images related to "video conferencing." In all of them (including the one I eventually chose), you see the person on the other side looking directly at you. That's how we naturally talk. We look into the other person's eyes. We make eye-contact.
However, in reality you rarely see the other person looking into your eyes. For the most part, the look down. Somewhere on your shirt. And they do that with intent and the body language as if they were looking into your eyes. Why? Think about yourself during a Skype (or any other) video call. What are you looking at? You are looking at the image of the person on the other side, somewhere on your screen. In fact, you are likely looking into the eyes of that image, because that comes natural to you. However, the camera that captures your image is at the top of your screen, above the image and therefore sees you looking lower. Having your video call counterpart look down instead of at you is, well, pretty annoying. What if we could get rid of that effect? What if the other person would appear to be looking straight into your eyes?
Well, I believe there is a way to do that. In fact, I believe there are several ways. With the continuous increase in processing power, computers (even small portable laptops) can do much more than they could before. My book Bowling with a Crystal Ball explains that. Here is what you could do with that additional processing power to fix the problem. The best location for a camera would be right behind the screen, exactly where the "eyes" of the person you are speaking with are on your screen. However, this is impossible (or, is it?). If the camera has to be outside of the screen, how about putting more than one camera? You could put two (top & bottom, left & right, top-left & bottom-right, etc.), or even four? The cost of a camera is not very high. Using graphic processing, you could "average" the slightly different perspectives of you from the four cameras to determine what you would look like if you actually looked straight at the camera. Add to that the knowledge that the computer has of where your counterpart's eyes are on the screen, and the video call software could tell exactly where you are looking at, and compensate appropriately.
Adding a second (or third, or fourth) camera would be a great idea for new computers, but how could you solve this for existing computers? There is a solution for those as well. First, since you are moving all the time, the camera (even if it is located only in one location on the computer) could help in creating a 3D model of you. Any time you raise your head or move it from side to side, you help the camera create that 3D image of you. The graphic processing engine doesn't have to change your head position much. Only a little, to make it look as if you are looking at the camera, and not at an object a few inches below it. It could even be simpler through manipulating the image of your pupils. For the most part, you could see that the other person looking at you has his or her pupils closer to the bottom of their eyes. How hard can it be to graphically manipulate them so that they look as if they are looking at you directly?
Is it important?
Like any new idea, you must wonder whether it solves a problem worth solving. According to a new , $3.7 Billion were spent in 2014 on video conferencing equipment, and this number is expected to grow to $8 billion by 2023. No doubt, video conferencing is an important field, and improving its performance and functionality would be important. market report from Transparency Market Research
What is the opportunity for you if you fix it? Microsoft bought Skype for $8.5 Billion in 2011, Cisco bought Tandberg for $3.3 Billion, Avaya purchased Radvision for $230 million in 2012, IBM bought UStream for $130 million in 2016, and Cisco bought Acano for $700 million in 2015, only to name a few of the video-conferencing technology acquisitions. This must be important.
Now it's up to you.