The Group Meeting Re-imagined: Designing Intelligent Rooms

Posted September 7, 2016
service system

A team of researchers at Rensselaer and industrial partners, led by computer vision expert Richard Radke, is working to design intelligent rooms. In this picture, the new smart service system will incorporate spatial and acoustical tracking, natural language understanding, and cognitive computing to enable environments that can keep meetings on track, assess participation and progress towards goals, maintain action items, summarize discussion, and mediate brainstorming.

Team of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Faculty and Industrial Partners Among Recipients of National Science Foundation Partnerships for Innovation: Building Innovation Capacity Award

By Jessica Otitigbe

Troy, N.Y. — Millions of meetings take place every day in the U.S., incurring a tremendous cost in terms of managers’ and employees’ precious time and salary. To create smart service systems for facilitating long-term technical group meetings, a team of researchers at Rensselaer and industrial partners, led by computer vision expert Richard Radke, is working to design intelligent rooms. The new project, titled “Multimodal-Sensor-Enabled Environments with Advanced Cognitive Computing Enabling Smart Group Meeting Facilitation Services,” is supported by a recently announced $1 million award from the National Science Foundation Partnership for Innovation: Building Innovation Capacity program.

“Group meetings suffer from serious problems that undermine productivity and collegiality, including overt or unconscious bias, ‘groupthink,’ fear of speaking, and unfocused discussion,”, said Radke, who also serves as deputy director of the NSF Engineering Research Center for Lighting Enabled Systems & Applications (LESA), and professor in the Department of Electrical, Computer, and Systems Engineering at Rensselaer. “Few automatic tools exist for keeping meetings on track, accurately recording who said what, and making group discussions more productive. The goal of this research is to design intelligent rooms that provide facilitation services by identifying meeting participants, understanding their conversations, summarizing discussions, and helping the group efficiently get through an agenda, all without requiring the participants to wear microphones or other sensors.”

The project will create smart service systems for facilitating long-term technical group meetings using two Rensselaer campus testbeds previously funded by NSF, LESA’s “Smart Conference Room” and the Collaborative-Research Augmented Immersive Virtual Environment (CRAIVE) Lab. The testbeds will be instrumented with advanced time-of-flight sensing systems, for which LESA was recently awarded a U.S. patent, along with custom-made beam-forming microphones and award-winning natural language understanding algorithms, allowing clear speech to be tagged to the participants as they move about.

Additional members of the Rensselaer team include: Heng Ji, Edward P. Hamilton Development Chair Associate Professor in the Department of Computer Science; Jonas Braasch, associate professor in the School of Architecture and director of the Center for Cognition, Communication, and Culture; and LESA Director Robert Karlicek, who also serves as a professor in the Department of Electrical, Computer, and Systems Engineering. The primary industrial partners are IBM Research and Heptagon Advanced MicroOptics. The award is partially supported by funds from the NSF Directorate for Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE) and the Divisions of Information and Intelligent Systems (IIS) and Computer and Network Systems (CNS).

Industry and university partnerships through the National Science Foundation (NSF) Partnerships for Innovation: Building Innovation Capacity (PFI:BIC) program are working to advance, adapt, and integrate cutting-edge technologies into human-centered smart service systems. The program gives scientists the opportunity to partner with industry to test their lab-created technologies in everyday settings, and learn from the interaction of humans and technology.

A key aspect of the project is a multi-year study that tracks technical research groups as they hold regular, unscripted meetings in the testbeds. According to Radke, the research may have several broader societal impacts. For example, any steps to make group meetings for complex, long-term projects more productive and easier to control would result in immediate economic impact. Additionally, the success of a service system that facilitates long-term group interactions could result in a major opportunity for technology transfer and a highly marketable hardware/software platform for collaboration in domains including business, education, and finance.

“The project will result in new group meeting data to be used by researchers in different fields such as organizational psychology and natural language understanding,” Radke noted. “The project will produce highly visible infrastructure for research and education that has the potential for greater public engagement with science and technology, and integrate naturally with the Cognitive and Immersive Systems Laboratory, a new joint venture between Rensselaer and IBM Research.”

At Rensselaer, this research fulfills the vision of The New Polytechnic, a paradigm for higher education which recognizes that global challenges and opportunities are so great they cannot be addressed by the most talented person working alone. Rensselaer serves as a crossroads for collaboration—working with partners across disciplines, sectors, and geographic regions—to address complex global challenges, using the most advanced tools and technologies, many of which are developed at Rensselaer. Research at Rensselaer addresses some of the world’s most pressing technological challenges—from energy security and sustainable development to biotechnology and human health. The New Polytechnic is transformative in three fundamental ways: in the global impact of research, innovative pedagogy, and in the lives of students at Rensselaer.

About the National Science Foundation

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. In fiscal year 2016, its budget is $7.5 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and other institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 48,000 competitive proposals for funding and makes about 12,000 new funding awards. NSF also awards about $626 million in professional and service contracts yearly. Visit for more information.

About the Center for Lighting Enabled Systems & Applications (LESA) Engineering Research Center (ERC)

Funded primarily by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the LESA ERC is an interdisciplinary, multi-university center developing “Smart Lighting Systems That See and ThinkTM”. The center engages faculty members, graduate students, research staff, and undergraduates to work on research leading to smart lighting systems with adaptive and controllable properties that will change the way society uses lighting.  The center joins academia, industry, and government in partnership to produce transformational engineered systems, along with engineering graduates who are adept at innovation and primed for leadership in the global economy.  The LESA ERC is headquartered at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY, and partners with Boston University, the University of New Mexico, and Thomas Jefferson University to achieve its objectives.

About Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, founded in 1824, is America’s first technological research university. The university offers bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in engineering; the sciences; information technology and web sciences; architecture; management; and the arts, humanities, and social sciences. Rensselaer faculty advance research in a wide range of fields, with an emphasis on biotechnology, nanotechnology, computational science and engineering, data science, and the media arts and technology. The Institute is has an established record of success in the transfer of technology from the laboratory to the marketplace, fulfilling its founding mission of applying science “to the common purposes of life.” For more information, please visit

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