by Tim Rowan, Editor
Has this happened to you? A COVID-protected staff or board meeting has some members sitting around a conference table, others projected on a screen from their home offices. In the middle of the table sits a microphone that is supposed to be able to pick up voices from every direction. The emphasis is on the words "supposed to." Everyone who has attempted to participate remotely in such a meeting is familiar with the request, "would you move closer to the conference-call phone and repeat that please?"
An impressive new microphone system has just been released to end this frustration. Rowan Report product testers were privileged to receive a pre-market prototype of "Erika, " an evolution in COVID-era sound technology that gives credence to the old saying, "necessity is the mother of invention."
Workers and board members stuck at home was supposed to be a 2020 aberration, long gone by now, but two unexpected developments have changed that prediction. It turns out that many employees found over the last year that they like working from home, and that their employer is happy to leave them there. Simultaneously, COVID did not go away as quickly or quietly as hoped. Just this week, more than half of U.S. states are reporting increases in variant cases, more new types of variants, and more new cases per day than last month. Meetings with remote workers are going to be with us for a while longer.
A Colorado company that owns a number of patents for hi-res, micro video cameras turned its skills to audio after hearing story after story about conference room and classroom agony like the example above. The result is quite a remarkable invention, which Convergent Design will market as "Erika."
Measuring approximately 1" by 2" and weighing 1/2 ounce, Erika attaches to a shirt or lapel with a backing magnet, similar to many name tags worn at conferences. Sitting about six inches below the user's chin and deploying advanced noise cancelling technology, Erika transmits the spoken word to a nearby computer in crystal clarity. Erika's receiver component, no larger than its microphone, attaches to a USB port.
We tested Erika on Zoom, Windows Teams, and Webex and found that it works perfectly on all of them. But that is just the beginning. We were impressed by a number of standard features Erika's designer, and company CEO, Michael Schell thought to include:
If the computer sharing the meeting for remote attendees does not have speakers loud enough for a conference room's size, external speakers are recommended.
Schell pointed out to us that units are easily sanitized and that, incidentally, they promote social distancing. "With Erika, there is no need to huddle around a single speaker phone," he said. "That includes the presenter, in a classroom-type configuration. The presenter is free to walk around the room instead of being tied to a speaker phone or to the computer itself." He added that the system can be used by each remote attendee as well, if desired, though that would require each remote person to have both microphone and receiver.
Initial retail pricing will be $79 for the receiver and first Erika microphone. Additional microphones can be added for $49 each. Doing the math for you, that is $912 for a complete set of 18.
©2021 by Rowan Consulting Associates, Inc., Colorado Springs, CO. All rights reserved. This article originally appeared in Home Care Technology: The Rowan Report. homecaretechreport.com One copy may be printed for personal use; further reproduction by permission only. firstname.lastname@example.org