by Ron Riesenbach and Tabatha Holtz

August 31, 1994

This is number 17 in a series of electronic newsletters for participants of the Ontario Telepresence Project


In response to a proposal submitted to Technology Ontario in the spring, the Province of Ontario has extended an additional $250,000 to the Ontario Telepresence Project to enable us to complete a number of very promising prototyping and technology transfer activities currently underway. With the extended funding, and the contributions from our industrial partners, we can maintain our hectic pace of operations to year end. We continue to pursue a number of promising initiatives for research activities beyond. Stay tuned for more on this...


In addition to being the Telepresence project's Scientific Director, Bill Buxton works half time in industry. Early this summer, Bill joined Alias Research, Inc. as "Principal Scientist". One of Bill's main tasks at Alias will involve bringing new ideas and techniques for human-human and human-computer interface design into existing and emerging high-end graphical products. Currently, Bill is working to "wire" up his group (and others) in Alias with a version of the Telepresence Media Space. Our excellent collaboration with Xerox PARC continues through a number of joint activities involving user-interfaces, reactive environments and the evolution of the IIIF server.


Thomas Scheer is a visiting student from the "Fachhochschule" in ULM, Germany where he studies Computer Engineering. He is completing his required practical training semester here at the University of Toronto with Jeremy Cooperstock on automating the Telepresence Conference room (see below). He has worked at the FAW (Research Institute for Applied Knowledge Processing) in their Multimedia Lab as a student worker. Thomas can be reached as follows: Office:SF2002A Ph.:(416) 978-3145; Email:


The University of Toronto Telepresence conference room is undergoing a major overhaul under the research program spearheaded by Bill Buxton's student, Jeremy Cooperstock. Currently, the equipment in this conference room is controlled my multiple hand-held remote controls and a computer-based graphical user interface which explicitly establishes input and output connections between various devices (our "DAN" interface). From a user perspective, the interface is sophisticated but complexity and somewhat inconsistent.

The goal of Jeremy's research is the construction of a "socially responsible", technologially-mediated meeting room. His intention is to construct an interface which does not require explicit user communication with the computer. Where appropriate, the system should be capable of acting automatically in response to the user's social activity. Collaborating with Koichiro Tanikosi, Telepresence staff and other students, a variety of sensors (sonar, infrared, image recognition through video cameras, etc.) will be employed to provide input into a computer which will then determine when appropriate actions should be taken by the devices in the room.

For example, the document camera now automatically sends its output to the main display monitor whenever a paper document is placed under the lens (!). No buttons, no switches, just put a piece of paper under the camera and presto! When you take it away, the room re-configures itself to the previous state after an appropriate delay.

Many more innovations are in the planning and prototyping stages that will involve the other devices in the room and will be "videoconference aware". For more information, contact Jeremy at


The following is a list of recent Ontario Telepresence Project Technical Reports published this year:

If you would like to view a copy of any one of these Technical Reports (or reports from previous years), please click here.


Telepresence now has a World Wide Web (WWW) site that is accessible over the INTERNET. We have published a variety of information including project overviews, technical reports, photos and biographies of the people participating in the project, etc. You can even see snap shots (updated every few minutes) of various people involved in the project sitting in their offices. The site is still under construction with more services being added all the time. Our home page is located as follows:


"Portholes" is the name of some prototype software from Xerox PARC and EUROPARC which enables members of a geographically dispersed workgroup to be "aware" of each other much in the same way as they would if they were located in the same suite of offices. Portholes uses desk-top video cameras to take snapshots of every member of a workgroup every 5 minutes or so. These snapshots are collated by central server and shipped back to each workgroup member as a composite image on their computer screen.

We have taken this excellent system contributed by Xerox and have significantly modified it, extended it and integrated it with the Telepresence Media Space. The changes are so radical that we felt that a new name was necessary. After a "name the software" contest, we settled on the name, "Postcards". The connotations of the name is one of sending friends a snapshot of where you are and what you are doing.


We would like to say good bye and wish Tom Milligan well as he leaves the Ontario Telepresence Project and the University of Toronto to pursue personal projects. Tom has been with the University of Toronto for over 15 years, was the original author of "IIIF" and was an integral part of the Telepresence project's Engineering group. His contributions to the research program are many and he will be missed.


One our contacts at ADCOM, Alex Sochaniwskyj, has recently become an independent consultant. His specialization includes the analysis, design, specification and implementation of user interfaces. He also teaches design at the Information Technology Design Centre (ITDC) at that Faculty of Architecture at the UofT and will continue to collaborate with Telepresence in a variety of research projects. Alex's new contact information is:
Designfarm Inc., 108 Ava Road, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M6C 1W1 Tel/Fax: (416) 782-1861 Email:


Barry Wellman has just been elected to the Sociological REsearch Association. It's an American-based honor society with a limit of 150 members under the age of 60. In addition, the American Journal of Sociology has cited Barry as one "of the most highly respected figures in the profession". Congratulations on both counts, Barry!

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