Isabel is a multipoint group collaboration tool for performing distributed congresses, classrooms or meetings over the Internet, which uses advanced floor control techniques, TV like production and videoconferencing to achieve an ordered and natural interaction among participants in large multipint configurations. Isabel is intended for group videoconferencing, but it can be used also for the desktop.Although porting to Windows and Mac are underway, Isabel runs on presently on Linux, either with a live CD or with a hard disk installation. A PC with Isabel installed is used to connect a room or auditorium to the session.
To achieve a good quality collaborative experience, Isabel uses the following approach:
1) Provide a uniform view of the session in all participating sites, where one screen integrates all videos and media in a visually meaningful composition.
2) Associate a visual message with each interaction occurring, which provides a natural understanding of ongoing activities, as TV programs do.
3) Present to the participants only the videos, audios and other media of the sites which are active at any point of time.
4) Include an easy floor control mechanism for selecting floor configurations and interaction modes which are based on the social conventions of co-located events.
5) Provide support protocols for the social conventions used when co-located, such that participants use the same behaviour patterns they would use in the equivalent non-Isabel co-located events.
The screen captures on the left side illustrate examples of interactions as shown to participants during collaboration sessions. Each view corresponds to a different type of collaborative interaction, a multiple video chat, a talk, an interactive panel discussion, a slide presentation, a question round, etc. Some of the captures (2 and 5) show also how side channels with sign language for deaf people can be incorporated into the videoconference.
The Isabel floor control is called the flexible floor, because it is programmable. Services can be defined to support the specific needs of a variety of collaboration types. For example, services have been developed to support
A) Project or work meetings where participant can interact in a free but disciplined way.
B) Distributed congresses or workshops where speakers, chairs and attendees are scattered in auditoriums all around the world.
C) Distributed classrooms where collaborative educational or training activities among different Faculties or Universities are performed.
Those services have been optimized to support the type of interactions and behaviour patterns used in similar non-Isabel co-located events.
Isabel enables a more effective collaboration than standard room audio/video/data conferencing, because the flexible floor allows an easy, effective and manageable multi-point collaboration with many interactive endpoints. In some distributed congresses performed with Isabel over fifty auditoriums have participated interactively.
Isabel platforms are also cheaper than other room videoconferencing systems. Each Isabel terminal is based in a plain PC and includes a multipoint control unit (MCU), which allows an easy set up of multi-site conferences with a large number of participants. All the processing is done by software without need of any special hardware.
Isabel uses standard TCP-IP Internet protocols and has been tunned to work properly over the Internet, ADSL, corporate networks or satellite, supporting unicast, multicast or mixtures of both, as well as with IPv4, IPv6 or IPv4/IPv6 transition scenarios. Encryption and FEC (Forward Error Correcting codes) are also supported.
Information about Isabel Commercial support can be found at the Agora home page.