Dalhousie University, Faculty of Medicine – 2010

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Halifax, NS and Saint John, NB

The Dalhousie Medical Education Program’s new high definition video conferencing/distance education system links 19 sites at two university campuses and four New Brunswick hospitals. Mandated to provide all students with a comparable learning experience regardless of their location, the program was established in collaboration with the Government of New Brunswick, the University of New Brunswick and the Horizon Health Network.

The Challenge

A tour de force of UX and usability engineering, the Engineering Harmonics design team envisioned a learning environment that was completely unbound by geography. They designed a system where any number of rooms full of students, regardless of size, could join and leave a larger virtual “classroom” completely adhoc at any time, regardless of whether those rooms were down the hall, in another building, or in another campus altogether. The design requirements were such that the assets of each joined room, including every student microphone, the live microphone queue list itself, lighting presets, program sources, automated camera presets etc. would all be available to and managed by the virtual classroom as if it were one single space. Finally, and most important to this utopian design goal was the criteria that this inflatable background complexity not impact the system usability in any perceivable way to the classroom professor.

Robotic Lighting Project – 2008

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LRX Lighting – http://www.lrx-lighting.com/

A film industry manufacturer of robotic lighting looks to replace their bulky, mechanical switch based control electrics with a standardized electronic control solution in a new fixture design.

The Challenge

Design and deliver a complete robotic control solution capable of interfacing with existing USITT DMX 512/1990 compliant lighting desks and show controllers.

Features (Fixture)

  • Optically isolated DMX 512 input. The optical isolation circuitry utilizes an onboard DC/DC converter to separately power an RS485 transceiver. This methodology preserves adherence to the EIA RS485 electrical specifications while at the same time eliminating the possibly of ground loops that often plague DMX lighting systems.
  • 5 H-bridge motor driver outputs each capable of delivering 12VDC at 6A peak current. Thermal overload protection, soft startup, braking and overshoot protection built in to each driver.
  • 3-digit .56″ LED display for fixture selection and parameter adjustment.
  • LED indication of valid DMX data reception.
  • Automatic lamp fan control via CPU-monitored current sensor.
  • User-resettable non-volatile bulb hour counter.
  • Factory-resettable non-volatile machine hour counter.
  • Field upgradeable firmware via the existing DMX interface.

Features (remote)

  • Industry standard DMX 512 output.
  • 2-digit .56″ LED fixture selection display.
  • PAN/TILT/FOCUS/TROLLEY adjustment.
  • Momentary control of gel cooling fan to reduce lighting flutter during critical film shots.
  • Field upgradeable firmware via the existing DMX interface.
  • In addition to the handheld remote, Symphony also designed and created an accompanying iOS app that mimicked the handheld controller. The App, available from the iTunes store is designed to mimic the handheld controller and can control up to 32 fixtures wirelessly using Artnet.

 

Symphony Interactive Mockup

 

Comment

In addition to the electronics hardware, we also provided the manufacturer with their own branded PC support software to adjust machine hours and maintain firmware revisions and feature requests in the field.

 

Council Chambers – 2008

A Southern Ontario regional council commissions a modernization of their existing council chambers.

The Challenge

Software architect and program the automation system for a regional council chambers in Southern Ontario.

Introduction

Working with us, the A/V contractor had largely concluded that many independent and costly systems could be replaced by software and centralized DSP. Where a typical A/V automation processor normally deals with straightforward control of audio, video, and lighting, it was now being tasked with complex algorithmic functions normally associated with external standalone hardware.

Features

R.T.S. – (Request to Speak) The chairperson has full control over who is allowed to speak and when, as each request first appears in one of two fully managed on-screen queue lists before being granted the floor. The software is responsible for maintaining a fully-editable database of chamber members and their seated positions, stored on the processor D.O.C. (Disc On Chip) for simple data backup and recovery.

N.O.M. – (Number of Open Mics) control of 40 chamber microphones. Because the microphone system is managed both by the individual speaker and by chairperson control of the RTS, N.O.M. had to be implemented externally in the control system software. Each microphone was assigned a priority level and entered into a software queue upon request from the user. The number of microphones allowed to be on at any given time is thus limited to the queue size, limiting overall system gain before feedback.

SECURITY – Multi-user account interface security with administrator-programmable function access for each account. Interfaces did not have dedicated or ‘hard-coded’ functionality, but instead assumed the functionality assigned to the individual user account, the common approach used in most desktop PC systems. This topology also ensured that system hailing or messaging between users is always delivered to the correct login account holder rather than a specific interface. All security information stored on the processor D.O.C. for simple data backup and recovery.

VOTING – Complete voting system implemented. 2/3 or 50+1 selectable vote rules. Attendance taking, re- assignable chairperson seating, and tie break via chair vote. Vote results can be printed directly from the control system via Symphony Interactive’s own siCalc PC software. A feed-forward single step touch panel vote procedure prevents the operator from inadvertently disturbing the vote process once initiated.

PRESETS – Rather than automating A/V tasks via hard coding, two drop-down preset menus were provided at the top of each control interface. Each of the 20 included presets are programmable by the administrator to include any combination of functions from the current system state and be assigned preset names as desired. All preset information is stored on the processor D.O.C. for data backup and recall.

RECURSION TREE VIDEO FOLLOW – In order to easily manage the 24 video outputs that sources could be routed to, each video destination could be dynamically programmed to follow any other, resulting in a ‘tree’ of linked destinations. This permits the operator to route a source to a destination and simultaneously cascade that source to all linked destinations with a single button push. A recursion tree algorithm requiring only a few lines of code was implemented to solve this. (programmer’s note: the chosen processor’s internal stack size limited recursion to 50 nested levels, more than enough to handle the system’s 24 video outputs in the unlikely event that every destination was linked to another in succession).

Comment

Exhaustive ergonomic and operational studies prior to inception were key to the success of this multi- facted project. End user experience can make or break an otherwise successful project, so it was imperative that professionally rendered user interface graphics reflect the physical room layout and permit functionality in the most intuitive manner possible.

Client dialogue is absolutely critical to the successful end-user operation of any integration project, however this dialogue often breaks down after the hardware requirements have been met. As most consultants will note, it is often too logistically difficult during the design phase to gain one-on-one feedback from the individuals who will ultimately become the end user.

Key to the success of this project was seeding system functionality dialogue among the employees at the earliest stages. By mass emailing out a preliminary framework document that described how each user interface should be navigated, how each individual function should operate, and then inviting unrestricted commentary, we opened a floodgate of feedback that was absolutely instrumental to the project’s ultimate success.