Cisco Donates Rochester's First TelePresence Center and Lab to RIT/NTID

NTID President Gerry Buckley, students, faculty and staff meet via TelePresence with officials from Cisco in California.
Story Highlights: 
  • The TelePresence Center will be used by NTID faculty, staff and students to research ways the technology can be better accessed by deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals. It also may have important implications involving remote interpreting and education.
  • TelePresence Centers are found globally, but the one at RIT/NTID is the largest center between Toronto and Albany.
  • The value of the grant from Cisco is approximately $700,000.
  • The project has been in the works for nearly two years.
  • Cisco is one of the top 10 employers of RIT students for co-ops and permanent employment upon graduation.

Rochester’s first TelePresence Center was unveiled today at Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf, enabling high quality, real-time video conferencing with people all over the globe.

TelePresence Centers are located around the world – including The White House – and offer videoconferencing that makes it seem as though everyone is seated in the same room, at the same table. Most are used by executives who find it a less expensive and more immediate option than traveling to meetings.

Cisco Systems, headquartered in San Jose, Calif., donated the equipment, installation and engineers to create the customized 14-seat room at RIT/NTID, ensuring the audio and lighting match that in other TelePresence Centers. A smaller TelePresence system was also donated and is based in another location at RIT/NTID. The donation – valued at nearly $700,000 – was made to RIT/NTID as part of a Cisco Research grant so that research and recommendations can be given to Cisco to help improve its technology to work effectively for deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals.

“We hope RIT/NTID will be able to find different solutions or recommendations to better assist people who are deaf or hard of hearing,” says Shraddha Chaplot, the Cisco engineer coordinating with RIT/NTID on the TelePresence donation and research grant. “And perhaps in terms of education, TelePresence would be a great way to have sign language interpreters in a screen. They don’t have to be there in person.”

Two RIT/NTID computing and information students – Samuel Sandoval, of Fairfax, Va., and Kelley Duran, of  North Fayston, Vt. – completed co-ops with Cisco this summer, helping the company develop products that are more accessible to individuals who are deaf.

“The experience was beyond my expectations,” Duran says.

“We truly appreciate Cisco’s donation to RIT/NTID,” says NTID President Gerry Buckley. “But we’re even more grateful to Cisco for its commitment to have its technology be more accessible to deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals. Partnering with our students not only gives the students opportunities to work with cutting-edge technology, their findings will benefit countless others in years to come.”

The TelePresence room at RIT/NTID is the largest of its kind between Toronto and Albany. It is filled with three 65-inch monitors placed next to each other. There are additional monitors above and below those, which can be used for captioning, allowing participants who rely on captions to glance at those screens and remain a part of the conversation.
Sign language interpreters can also be part of the meeting seated at the table, or off camera to the side.

“The quality of this technology is a quantum leap ahead of any other conferencing capability out there,” says E. William Clymer, associate director of NTID’s Center on Access Technology. The technology can also potentially be used for remote captioning and distance learning.

"This is an immersive experience," Rich Goldberg, Cisco's vice president for corporate quality said during a videoconference with Buckley and RIT/NTID students, faculty and staff. "It's hard to believe we're 2,500 miles apart. While video is one of our priorities, so is collaboration."

Cisco hopes the research done at RIT/NTID will help them solve some dilemmas. For instance, a camera used in the TelePresence Center can automatically be focused on the person speaking. But if that person uses sign language instead of their voice, the camera may not focus on that person.

John Combs, Senior Manager for product accessibility at Cisco, says, “We are anticipating that as RIT/NTID students and faculty gain experience using the TelePresence Center, they will provide valuable feedback and ideas on how to make it even more accessible.”

Gary Behm, an assistant professor in NTID’s Engineering Studies department and director of NTID’s Center on Access Technology’s Innovation Lab, says the collaboration between Cisco and RIT/NTID “provides excellent opportunities for the development team review to meet deaf and hard-of-hearing students’ needs in the educational environment as well as for our students and faculty to perform their scholarship work.”

The research is expected to continue at RIT/NTID through October 2012, when the college will present findings to the Cisco Research team.


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