Remote collaboration

Improve teleconferencing for reduced air travel

How can we improve teleconferencing for students and researchers on different continents, so that they can collaborate more effectively, as an alternative to air travel for meetings and conferences ?
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Challenge description

Summary :

Teleconferencing has the potential to replace business travel, in particular for universities around the world which are trying to shift to more sustainable travel policies. The challenge is to enable students and researchers to collaborate remotely with their peers, while maintaining more of the powerful social, psychological and cultural benefits of meeting in person, that make travel so valuable. Despite rapidly improving technology, and the emergence of potentially promising VR and AR solutions, remote collaboration is still often frustrating. High quality teleconferencing solutions exist, but remain extremely expensive, beyond the means of most universities. And the environmental impact of teleconferencing, while generally less than air travel, remains substantial and needs to be reduced, too. So how can we improve teleconferencing in a smart, frugal and low-impact way, in order to establish a more effective and compelling alternative to air travel?

Context :

Air traffic is a major contributor to climate change. In Switzerland it contributes 19% of the total CO2 emissions and over 2/3 of those are business related. Almost every type of business relies on international travel for meetings and conferences, and universities are no exception to this. To partially reduce the related carbon footprint of air travel, alternative means of transport (e.g. trains) and more central meeting locations can be considered. But for intercontinental collaborations, teleconferencing remains the only realistic alternative. Teleconferencing is often touted as an alternative to physical meetings. But while a large spectrum of teleconferencing solutions are widely used, from free solutions like Skype to dedicated teleconferencing rooms with six figure price tags, still there is scope for  improving these solutions, in particular within the context of inter-university collaboration across continents, using:

  • New, frugal technologies that combine virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and artificial intelligence (AI) to achieve more seamless low-cost teleconferencing solutions.
  • Incorporation of subtle social, psychological and cultural cues into teleconferencing solutions, to provide a better approximation of the invisible benefits that in-person meetings provide.
  • Careful evaluation and reduction of the full environmental impacts of teleconferencing, to minimize the distributed energy consumption that underpins teleconferencing.

Challenge vision

Challenge description / Expected result (from participants)::

Hackers are invited to evaluate novel low-cost (frugal) hardware and software solutions for teleconferencing and telepresence, in typical University contexts, and specifically within the context of students and researchers collaborating between University of Geneva and Tsinghua University, at its campuses in Beijing and Shenzhen, which includes connection with partner organizations in Africa. Working with some of the latest tech solutions coming out of Shenzhen. They shall work with mentors from psychology and the social sciences at the University of Geneva to identify and tackle the psychological, cultural, social and linguistic barriers that teleconferencing still has to overcome, to match the benefits of in-person meetings. They will also work with experts from CERN and ITU to better estimate the full environmental impacts of teleconferencing, in order to minimize this impact.

Solutions can imply:

  • New high-level concepts that can impact university travel policies
  • Incremental improvements to existing solutions that improve quality and efficiency
  • Practical insights into subtle psychological and social issues, that can inspire new solutions
  • New tools that can help estimate and reduce the environmental impact of teleconferencing

Information disponible : 

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