Traditionally when we speak of collaboration, and certainly the digital kind enabled by enterprise social networks and their like, we often do so in a knowledge sense, with information something that can be easily shared online.
Which is great, except sometimes the collaboration is something altogether more physical. For instance, I visited the recently opened FabLab in London last month. It’s a facility that provides people with a range of manufacturing and design tools to learn and build with.
Whilst there are obvious possibilities for collaboration with fellow members of the facility, collaboration with members of other FabLabs around the world is limited to the intellectual. It isn’t possible for someone in London to work on the same machine tool as someone from New York.
A new project from researchers at the University of Essex may be about to change that however.
Making physical collaboration virtual
The researchers have created a virtual engineering lab that they believe will allow engineers to work on the same thing at the same time, regardless of where they are in the world.
The tool has already been tested out, allowing users at the lab in Essex to collaborate with peers in Mexico using the mixed-reality environment provided by the facility.
The team worked together on an intelligent home product, with engineers at the Instituto Tecnologico de Leon in Mexico instantly able to see the effect of their actions on the physical equipment in the Essex lab.
The project team were excited about the potential of their product: “This technology has the potential to significantly change in a positive way the future of our lifestyles, where there is no longer the need to always travel to a central spot achieve great things.
“The team at Essex are huge believers in the effects of blended realities and how this will affect real life. When you send a text you are already blending realities. In the future this blending of virtual realities is going to increase in a very positive way. We have to just make sure we get the balance right.”
There are a growing number of facilities like FabLab and TechShop emerging throughout the world. Technology such as this could herald a significant rise in the way users of such facilities can work together on projects.
When distance is no longer a barrier to STEM lab work, the potential is very exciting indeed. This will certainly be an area to watch with interest.