Our Collaboration with IBM Watson

IBM is no stranger to transformation. Over its more than 100-year history, the company has reinvented itself repeatedly, creating one of the most trusted brands in the world and continually earning its stripes as a leading innovator. Right now, IBM is in the midst of one of its largest reinvention efforts to date, and we’re honored that Oblong technology is helping IBM illustrate how it is driving such rapid and meaningful change.

IBM’s massive, design-centered pivot, as highlighted in the New York Times last year, is pioneering a paradigm shift in the way organizations solve problems and make decisions. That same dedication to design in the service of enterprise-scale work closely mirrors our focus at Oblong. So it makes sense that IBM is engaging us to help create immersive experiences that deliver on their reinvented vision—particularly with its Watson initiatives. 

As Watson is a key part of IBM’s transformation, the company needed to bring this groundbreaking cognitive computing technology to life for its customers. IBM sought a way for clients to interact with various Watson solutions and visualize use cases for the technology. The Oblong Solutions team built a suite of custom applications atop our exclusive g-speak spatial operating environment to enable several dynamic, larger-than-life displays at the first Watson Experience Center (WEC) in IBM’s Watson headquarters at Astor Place in New York City.

We integrated these unique interactive systems with our proven Mezzanine offering to provide a continuous experience (with high wow factor) and, more importantly, to facilitate collaboration between IBM’s solutions architects and its clients. With the flick of a wand, users can grab content from any one of the expansive displays and drop it into a nearby exploratory room—or “THINKTank”—equipped with Mezzanine.

Mezzanine in the THINKTanks enriches the Watson teams’ sessions with Infopresence—the experience of group immersion in vital content to achieve heightened real-time collaboration, within a room and across locations. This means that anyone at the WEC can interact and work seamlessly with researchers at other IBM locations, and all participants can draw from multiple systems and applications to help them solve challenges in a transformatively fluid and parallel way.  

With Infopresence and our cutting-edge g-speak applications providing a vivid, interactive connection between cognitive computing and spatial computing, the Astor Place WEC achieved instant success—the facility is consistently booked months in advance. It was clear that the Center needed to expand.

“Being able to demonstrate Watson technology with spatial computing and Infopresence has brought a powerful new dynamic to the way we work with clients,” notes Ed Harbour, Vice President, IBM Watson. “We wanted to bottle it and share it around the globe—and so we did. We used the same technology from Oblong to create Watson centers in other geographies, which are essentially compact versions of the original WEC. All these spaces, small and large, are more than just a dazzling display of technology. They are hubs for shaping the future.” 

The global Watson centers are scaled down to conference room size to meet the needs of global markets, but still offer the full-throttle experience of the original CEC through the same custom interface and Mezzanine technology. These spaces have extended IBM’s cognitive vision around the globe, with locations in Australia, Singapore, Brazil, England, and Ireland. 

The global centers aren’t the only expansion. We’ve also helped IBM create three new large-scale WECs focused on core industries: Watson Health in Cambridge, Massachusetts; IBM Commerce and Watson in San Francisco, California; and Watson IoT in Munich, Germany. 

Oblong’s technology is a key enabler at these locations, and you can see our expanding work with IBM in action across other initiatives, like the IBM THINKLab, Security, and Dev Labs.

“Our UI-centered philosophy, our passion for design, and our dedication to making a difference in the world through computing all align with IBM’s mission. The depth and breadth of our work together are a testament to the power of a shared vision,” said John Underkoffler, founder and CEO of Oblong. “We’re thrilled that our spatial computing applications help illustrate the applications and benefits of cognitive computing. We’re hugely energized by the early results of this combination and can’t wait to explore the vast potential it holds.” 

image credits: 1.Dwell, 2. IBM News Room, 4. TechCrunch

Working with Watson

The goal of each Watson Experience Center—located in New York, San Francisco, and Cambridge—is to demystify AI and challenge visitor’s expectations through more tangible demonstrations of Watson technology. Visitors are guided through a series of narratives and data interfaces, each grounded in IBM’s current capabilities in machine learning and AI. These sit alongside a host of Mezzanine rooms where participants further collaborate to build solutions together.

The process for creating each experience begins with dynamic, collaborative research. Subject matter experts take members of the design and engineering teams through real-world scenarios—disaster response, financial crimes investigation, oil and gas management, product research, world news analysis—where we identify and test applicable data sets. From there, we move our ideas quickly to scale.

Accessibility to the immersive pixel canvas for everyone involved is key to the process. Designers must be able to see their ideas outside of the confines of 15″ laptops and prescriptive software. Utilizing tools tuned for rapid iteration at scale, our capable team of designers, data artists, and engineers work side-by-side to envision and define each experience. The result is more than a polished marketing narrative; it's an active interface that allows the exploration of data with accurate demonstrations of Watson’s capabilities—one that customers can see themselves in.

Under the Hood

Underlying the digital canvas is a robust spatial operating environment, g‑speak, which allows our team to position real data in a true spatial context. Every data point within the system, and even the UI itself, is defined in real world coordinates (measured in millimeters, not pixels). Gestures, directional pointing, and proximity to screens help us create interfaces that more closely understand user intent and more effectively humanize the UI.

This award-nominated collaboration with IBM is prototyped and developed at scale at Oblong’s headquarters in Los Angeles as well as IBM’s Immersive AI Lab in Austin. While these spaces are typically invite-only, IBM is increasingly open to sharing the content and the unique design ideas that drive its success with the public. This November, during Austin Design Week, IBM will host a tour of their Watson Immersive AI Lab, including live demonstrations of the work and a Q&A session with leaders from the creative team.

Can't make it to Austin? Contact our Solutions team for a glimpse of our vision of the future at our headquarters in the Arts District in Los Angeles.

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