Keeping the human factor in AV and Technology
22 July 2020
Greg Anderson explains how isolation might be “flattening the curve”, but it’s increasing our AV learning curve.
We caught up with Greg Anderson who heads up our AV engineering division at ADP Consulting and asked him a few questions on his experiences during the Covid-19 isolation period and the effects on Audio Visual technology.
What do you believe have been the biggest the impacts on people’s perception of AV technology during Covid-19 home isolation and what have you observed during this time?
2020 has been a unique and uncertain time in history, forcing many of us out of our comfort zones in relation to how we work. A challenge for many has been the sudden stop in human interaction on a day to day basis and having to quickly adapt to working in a new isolated environment, the ‘virtual’ office. Many may have dreamt of this as being a utopian situation, but the reality is vastly different. I believe it is much harder to do our jobs this way and it has put many conferencing technologies to the test.
In terms of AV, years ago people were quite forgiving with technology and had a certain patience if something didn’t work the first time or switch within 3 seconds. These days we have many more device options and each with different connection methods. We have better internet speeds but this has only seemed to increase our expectations and demands on technology.
For many who have had to make the sudden transition to working from home, one reality has been having to solve their own technical issues. Pre pandemic, IT people were often in the same building as staff but now VPNs need to be connected prior to getting any remote desktop support. For many who are impatient and blasé with technology it has forced a very steep learning curve and at the same time first-hand experience of the capabilities as well as limitations of current VC technologies compared to actually being in the same room as other people.
Can you expand a bit on how people have responded to this?
Already being familiar with different VC applications like Zoom, Teams & Skype for Business it’s not so bad for me but I’ve heard architects and clients comment on how tired they get, swapping between the different applications and having to learn how to connect and navigate through each one which is understandable as it’s not their core business. For years we have all held meetings with lots of us sitting around tables and having direct face to face conversations, utilising a VC application only if needed. For many of us and our clients this virtual shift in the way we work has presented a new way of looking at AV design and technology.
Is the importance of AV Design finally being realised?
It’s a bit of both. Interestingly though, society refers to the medical and legal fields as a “practice” which to us invokes a belief that each field is always evolving and changing depending on updates and new discoveries and there’s a sort of tolerance that there’s always things yet to be discovered particularly with medicine. In a similar way AV should also be called a “practice” as there are always new technologies and updates and ways of applying these into design yet people still seem impatient and more demanding than ever, without actually looking at how far we’ve progressed in the last 5 years. For example, having 2-way interaction with content during a VC call was only a pipe dream some years ago. For us during this isolation period, having 2-way mouse control between remote participants marking up drawings has been invaluable.
Also, AV has become more dependent on IT networks and so AV engineers are now more IT-savvy however AV design isn’t always about flashing blue lights and touch screens it’s more about applying technology to humans.
Are you saying it’s more about humans than technology?
AV deals mostly with humans communicating and the tools they need to deliver a certain experience and differs widely from a one-on-one meeting, to a large group. So well thought out AV designs put task needs first and then match the technology around the human factors of how people will engage on a daily basis.
“What are these human factors?”
There are many. Our eyes & ears are the primary receptors if you like, for getting information into the brain. They provide the means of gathering raw data and the brain then processes the information which is much more than we are ever aware of. Not many of us like being in very noisy reverberant spaces for long. Not many of us like looking at bright lights and bright objects for very long so why is that?
“Like loud pubs or being outside on a bright day? Yeah, I can only tolerate about 30mins at my local and then I put sunnies on to go outside”
What you are likely experiencing is fatigue on many levels. Our eyes gather raw data and the brain processes things like composition, colour, contrast & distance between objects for depth of field. Our iris continually makes adjustments for lighting levels to protect the retina and then the brain responds back to the eyes instructing them to focus on things it needs to know more about. That’s a lot going on in anyone’s head!
It’s also very similar with our hearing. Our brains process all the different reverberation delay times from within a noisy environment and try to filter out just the speech information of a conversation, which you know is difficult to do in a loud pub or restaurant with hard surfaces.
When our head and ears are actually in the room our brain knows how to process complex room reverberation because it has access to all the information but if we were to record that same room sound and play it back through a single loudspeaker, our brain no longer has access to the same information and has to process things on a much more compromised level.
Working from home with people frequently connecting on VC is similar in that we are forcing our brains to process information differently and a lot of people have had trouble adapting for these reasons. Ask anyone how they felt at the start of this period up till now a few months later. Most say they struggled at first but now is not too bad.
During this isolation period more people are directly experiencing the mechanical human elements of AV design and how technology plays an important role. AV design is not just about the LCD hanging off the wall or how we connect into an MS Teams meeting, it’s also about all the senses of what human’s experience.
What are the main differences from before till now?
Prior to this I had dealt with many interior designers and project team members who at times, provided some very pragmatic opinions and design advice on how best to set up video conference rooms and placement of the associated technology yet some had never, or rarely, participated in a video conference meeting themselves. At the start of this isolation period I had sent many Teams & Zoom invites to externals and many were completely thrown and didn’t know what to do. When they did finally get on board and gave desktop conferencing a go, many were then uncomfortable with the experience due to all sorts of factors as mentioned before. Yet here I am the AV guy telling them about technology and human factors which is often difficult for them to comprehend. The belief is you just want to talk about technology and their main concern is how much it will all cost but the efficiencies of cost are all related to every aspect of a room and how human factors contribute to this.
There is now more interest from the other side of the table when we talk about lighting on faces and camera mounting heights and what the camera “sees” on the wall behind the participants. The room acoustics and where to put the mics and the list goes on.
What do you think is next for AV and technology?
There could be many things! A few years ago I remember when our building had just switched over to a destination control lift system and all the floor level buttons had been removed from inside each lift. On one particular day another person walked in just after me and commented in confusion;
“Where’s the floor level buttons?
Meanwhile the lift took off and I responded having some fun; “In this building you just think about which floor you want to be on and the lift system will read your brain’s Alpha waves accordingly”.
The person looked at me blankly for a few seconds not wishing to appear ignorant but also in disbelief.
I said reassuringly, “No, not that I know of but someday they will”.
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