Under a non-disclosure agreement, AV Technology magazine was invited for a special demo while at InfoComm17 in Orlando of a product which wouldn’t be publicly announced until June 21, 9:00 a.m., EST. Four gray walls with a wobbly door and a small sign reading, “Owl Labs” cloaked a unique product unlike any other I had seen on the show floor.
Sitting on a round table was a nicely designed, approximately 11-inch tall by 4.4-inch diameter pod-like device, which looked like it could be a speaker. To my left at 10 o’clock was Owl Labs vice president Dan Marchetto, and to my right at 2 o’clock was Owl Lab’s CEO Max Makeev. They introduced me to the Meeting Owl. Admittedly, I did an eye-roll—another videoconferencing device.
When one of us began talking, two round “eyes” became illuminated from behind the black mesh covering the pod. Yes, it looked like an owl—but not in a silly way. The design of this IoT videoconferencing device is brilliant—in every way. My eye-roll switch to wide-eyed excitement.
As each of us was talking or gesturing with our hands, a video image of each person appeared side-by-side on the monitor. The monitor was demonstrating what the person or group on the far end of the videoconference would see. If just two of us were talking, one image would disappear. If just one was talking the image would fill the full width. At all times, the top of the of the video monitor displayed a 360-degree, panoramic view of the entire room with very little distortion. This provides the best possible feel for the full meeting space.
5 Reasons Why the Meeting Owl Blew Me Away
1: Easy to use is an understatement: There is truly no setup or configuration needed. Plug the unit’s power cord into an AC outlet, connect the USB to a laptop, launch a browser (no software to download), and log into your favorite web-enabled videoconferencing provider such as Zoom, Google Hangouts, BlueJeans, and Skype for Business. The Meeting Owl’s audio, video, and really intelligent software take over managing the layout of the room and participants.
2: Ideal for Huddle Spaces: If you’ve ever been on the far end of a videoconference watching a meeting from a PTZ camera—it can be dizzying. A 360-degree, single-lens camera on top of the device captures the full room at 720p, 30fps. The high-dynamic-range lens helps prevent silhouetting and is great in low-light conditions.
3: What Did He Say? Seriously, the bane of any conference call is not being able to hear clearly on either end of the meeting. The Owl has an eight-microphone array placed around the device, with the ability to cover a 12-foot diameter range. Acoustic echo cancellation, 48kHz sampling rate, and 360-degree speakers have you covered. Participants can control the volume from the base of the unit.
4: A true IoT device. Makeev assured me that as the team creates wiser features, updates will be sent via Wi-Fi directly to the Meeting Owl.
5: Great industrial design. The Meeting Owl could sit on a table in any meeting room with a high aesthetic and feel at home. The illuminated “owl eyes” indicating a meeting is in progress are nicely integrated.
Bonus: The Meeting Owl is actually shipping today (June 21, 2017), and for a price I think is a steal for the level of design and engineering that went into this product not to mention the end user benefits: $799.
Not Exactly a Garage Startup
Granted the Meeting Owl isn’t officially shipping until today, but the product has been in beta at many high-profile companies for a while. Owl Labs was founded in 2014 by CEO Max Makeev and CTO Mark Schnittman, both formerly of iRobot with solid experience developing products and bringing them to market.
Owl Labs was seeded by Playground Global Ventures and was the first company to join Playground's West Coast Design Studio, founded by Android co-creator Andy Rubin. In May 2017, Antonio Rodriguez of Matrix Partners led Owl Labs’ $6M Series A investment. Makeev and Schnittman have put down roots in Boston to build the team, go to market and scale the company.
Today the company has nearly 20 people. I would keep an eye or two out for Owl Labs.
Cindy Davis is AV Technology’s contributing editor and event director whooooot you should follow on Twitter @custommediaco.