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Jan 13 2014

From the Labs: the Fujitsu-Fraunhofer Intelligent Desk


Much has been told about Fujitsu's vision for a "Human-Centric Intelligent Society," but few examples illustrate the concept as completely as the Intelligent Desk – which is, in essence, a design study of what the average office workplace could look like in the foreseeable future. Developed in a collaborative effort with Germany's leading research organization, the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft (Fraunhofer Society), it depicts just how immersive the working experience may become, comparable only to top console games such as "The Elder Scrolls" or the "FIFA" series of football (soccer) simulations.

A popular exhibit at the Fujitsu Forum in recent years, the Intelligent Desk rarely fails to impress attendees of the annual ICT event. Outside the Fujitsu world, however, it remains largely unknown; so a short description might be in order: imagine a crossover of a regular workplace, an engineer's drawing board, and a spot on the command bridge of the original Star Trek series – and you're halfway there. But you won't see Captain Kirk, Mister Spock or Lieutenant Uhura sit down in front of it. In fact, you will soon realize it's both too modern and too realistic at the same time to appear in the latest Hollywood blockbusters, despite its undisputed star qualities.

Prototype for Future Workplaces
On a more prosaic note, the Intelligent Desk can aptly be described as a "test mule" that integrates several technologies which are already available today to arrange them in an unprecedented fashion. The resulting prototype gives a very clear impression of what future workplaces could look like – from the dynamically adjustable daylight lamp above one's head to the triptych of large touchscreens built into the table beneath one's hands. "The brilliant thing about this prototype is that it works like a genuine end user device in all kinds of application scenarios," says Michael Golling, project manager at Fujitsu's Innovation Lab, who oversees the Intelligent Desk development. "It enables us to map innovative services to the 'desktop' and then see if these implementations work and how they affect user behavior." Two of the main questions the project team tries to answer are which components make up the ergonomically perfect GUI/desktop combination and whether it's possible to merge analog and digital workflows into seamless processes that come naturally to the average office worker.

To draw scientifically valid conclusions from these engineering efforts, Fujitsu collaborates closely with the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, more specifically its Institute for Industrial Engineering (Fraunhofer IAO) located at the University of Stuttgart. "Intelligent Desk first started out as a side arm of Fraunhofer's overarching OFFICE 21® research project, which focuses on the 'future of work,' that is, on the way that our technical means and organizational policies will develop over time and how that affects the working process in general," explains Golling. OFFICE 21® started in 1996 and reached its current, eighth research period in 2012. Building on a forecast for 2025 from the previous period, the researchers have now entered the phase of "work-lifestyle studies," in which they are to find out what constitutes an ideal office setting and how factors like lighting, acoustics, and adequate ICT equipment can help increase the attractiveness of both a workplace and an employer.

From Research to Product Development
"With the technologies we're using in Intelligent Desk, we cover several of these aspects at once," Golling says. As may be easily imagined, the entire setup is based on a Fujitsu workstation; but "we also added a number of peripherals that are not readily associated with our company's name," he continues. For example, RFID and PalmSecure scanners and an HD webcam from Fujitsu laid the foundation for a hardware-based security and authentication concept that uses radio technology, palm vein scans or face recognition. Likewise, the company supplied the high-end 27-inch display and three-part touchscreen that serve as central visualization and input components and override the traditional monitor/keyboard dichotomy to allow for an intuitive handling of digital documents. Instead of using a piece of software, office workers can now create drawings or drafts using their fingers or a pen, save them with a tap to the screen, and share them with co-workers with a single swipe. But soon the developers noticed that this wasn't the most humane form of interaction, and so decided to bring in voice control as an alternative. Consequently, the next step enabled users to forward a file simply by saying a colleague's name if they were logged into a unified communications and collaboration (UCC) network and wearing their headsets. The results were so positive that Fujitsu decided to introduce UCC-enabled USB headsets in H1/2014, as accessories for the latest line of always available ESPRIMO Q office PCs.

This gives a perfect description of how Fujitsu not only contributes to, but learns and benefits from the Fraunhofer collaboration. So does the freshly developed visual indication device – a combined status indicator/speaker replacement that blinks and rings when a call comes in, that way alerting users who don't have speakers installed or turn off audio as a rule. "This is a classic example of how input from a rather scientific project can lead to the development of an actual product," Golling resumes. And also, one might add, of a textbook win-win situation.

Questions for Debate
Here are some questions we'd like to discuss with you regarding this article and experiences with your customers:

1. More and more corporations are preparing for new working conditions and new working environments. How do you expect working behaviors to change in the medium and long term?

2. Work will be more flexible in the future. From your experience, how are corporations prepared to meet those changes?

3. The "war of talents" is a buzzword which the media are using in an almost inflationary way. What are your experiences with Generation Y and what particular working conditions do they expect?

4. Communication becomes more and more important in a globalized world. What would be your advice for companies in terms of "Unified Communication & Collaborations"?

5. What type of Collaboration Services do you expect companies in the future to use and request from 3rd party companies/ IT suppliers?

Please feel free to answer in the text box below or open up a thread on our Discussion Board!


Thomas Zott


About the Author:

Thomas Zott
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Thomas Zott is a Senior Marketing Manager on Fujitsu's on Marketing Program Team WPS. He has been with the company for almost 15 years and worked in several ...


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