The virtual home, realized: Cisco's Umi brings telepresence to the living room

Cisco's new Umi brings lifelike, high-definition telepresence to the home, the hospital room and the classroom. It may change these industries forever.
Written by Andrew Nusca, Contributor

Imagine being at home in Connecticut and talking to your mother in Florida -- and see every wrinkle when she smiles after you told her she's just become a grandmother.

No, it's not the latest Apple iPhone ad -- it's called Cisco Umi, and its the company's first foray into bringing high-definition corporate videoconferencing software to the home.

Cisco on Wednesday introduced the home telepresence product, which uses an existing HD television and a broadband Internet connection to make you feel as if you're in the same room as the person you're talking to.

(And that's not just marketing fluff, either. If you've ever used Cisco TelePresence for business, you'll know how frighteningly lifelike it is.)

The product comes with an HD camera that helps the system adjust to lighting conditions and room size. An included remote controls the system, which will cost several hundred dollars upfront and include a monthly service fee. (Over at ZDNet, Sam Diaz has the full rundown.)

Cisco's business Telepresence is most often used on both ends of the communication, but Umi allows someone on the other end to connect with only a webcam and Google video chat.

But how it's done is of little concern compared to the big picture concept here: with the deployment of increasingly inexpensive, high quality telepresence technology, we're looking at significant shifts in industries such as education, healthcare and finance.

(Cisco's already hinted at the education angle, by the way. Surely you've caught its latest commercials with actress Ellen Page?)

For now, Cisco's working with Verizon to bring the technology to FiOS fiber-optic network customers. (It will also be available in Best Buy in the fall.) But as the nation's broadband infrastructure matures, so shall this technology be available to the masses.

Here's a look in a video:

What happens when a green city has telepresence in every home? We asked that very question in June after Cisco announced its "smart city" experiment in Songdo, Korea -- where every home will be equipped with telepresence technology.

So what happens when every city becomes a green city like Songdo?

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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