GHOSTS in the Machine: Bridging Human Connections Through Ocular View

At a time when living and working online dominate our lives, the search for a way to use technology to make us more connected, not less, has never been more important. This is what Steelcase has been working on with its recently introduced ‘Project Ghost’ (with the electronics giant Logitech). Known as the ‘Ocular View’, this emerging method of hybrid collaboration is shaping the future of work – with humans, for humans.

The Genesis of Project GHOST

In some ways, the path to ‘Ocular View’ started with a very simple question: what can technology do to make off-site connections feel as spontaneous and natural as those you’d make over an impromptu coffee? The search began with ‘Project Ghost’ – a collaboration between Steelcase and Logitech. Combining Steelcase’s insights around hybrid collaboration with Logitech’s expertise in video collaboration technology, it was rooted in a shared vision – designing distraction-free spaces for remote interactions that would combat digital fatigue.

A Portal to Enhanced Connections

Underpinning ‘Ocular View’ is a commitment to three key values: health, social connection, and privacy. This three-legged stool was created based on widespread Steelcase research into the priorities of workers, turning ‘Ocular View’ into a system that does more than just enable digital communication – it enhances it. Sitting next to its user in the cocoon that is the Steelcase Everwall – or European-based Orangebox Campers and Dens, as manufacturer Orangebox calls it – ‘Ocular View’ creates a quiet place to be separate from the outside world, and helps to enhance the quality of remote communications in making them more personal.

Designing for the Human Element

There is very much a design ethos at work here, but it sustains its inventiveness by remaining tightly focused on the objective of facilitating natural human interaction. The core point-of-view of ‘Ocular View’ is at eye level ‘in recognition of the significance of the human eye’ and of ‘natural eyesight’. That is why the experience is centred around eye-level cameras; to maintain natural eye contact and to replicate naturally as much of the flow of ordinary human engagement as possible. It is also why the tables were made to be ‘organically shaped’ in order to improve line-of-sight and make it so that ‘every person is seated almost equally with respect to all others, and is visually centred within the camera’s framing.’

Beyond Technology: Fostering Genuine Engagement

Steelcase and Logitech insist that ‘Ocular View’ is less about dominant technology than about receding it into the background – away from ‘geeky, magical experiences’ and toward the human one. ‘Our vision for this project was that people would walk in and the technology is supposed to fade away,’ says Alex Mooney of Logitech. ‘We emphatically didn’t want people to focus on the experience of the technology, but rather on the experience of talking to each other in a comfortable, human-to-human way.’ This is what makes ‘Ocular View’ distinctive – technology receding not just to the backdrop of cyberplace, but disappearing altogether to serve as a largely unremarkable agent of communications. It is less a high-tech intermediary than an invisible wire, connecting people in an intimate way.

Availability and Future Horizons

‘Ocular View’ is already available in North America and several European countries and will be rolled out to other areas as new Everwall configurations arrive in the Summer of 2024. Businesses and remote workers around the world eagerly await the approaching horizon.

Understanding 'Project GHOST'

In a way, ‘Project Ghost’ was more than just the precursor to ‘Ocular View’: it was a philosophy, an ethical commitment on the part of its creators to use the convergence of the digital and the physical as a means of furthering human interaction. It is a landmark on this long-term journey to make technology commensurate with our deepest, longterm estimations of what it means to feel solidarity with another person. In the digital age, we are increasingly relying on our ability to find the human thread.

In technospeak, ‘ghosts’ generally signify problems of some sort, such as glitches or invisibilities — but the word in ‘Project Ghost’ turns the connotation around. Here, the ghost is a feature, not a bug, it is an invisible connection that links without making itself known. As we face the challenges of the digital age, in the double context of ‘Project Ghost’ and the ‘Ocular View’, we see the human spirit shining through the machine — beckoning us to use technology not just to connect us, but to bring us closer, to each other.

Jun 15, 2024
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