Owl Labs debuted its Meeting Owl device for video conferencing today. Starting at $799, the standalone video conferencing solution has been under development since 2015 and is backed by Android creator Andy Rubin’s Playground Ventures.
Meeting Owl looks like a lot of smart speakers that have come to market but, unlike others, a single 360-degree camera that can recognize and highlight the person speaking sits atop the device. Meeting Owl can use lots of different types of video conferencing services, like Skype or Zoom, but its main job today is to place the person or persons speaking in a meeting front and center.
Running on a Snapdragon processor and offering an array of eight microphones, facial recognition, and other features, Meeting Owl has the technology necessary to place an intelligent assistant like Alexa or Google Assistant inside (Like Rubin, Owl Labs is agnostic about which assistant people choose). And it may do so someday, but the company has chosen not to include this options in its current offerings.
Meeting Owl doesn’t do a lot of things you might expect a smart speaker made for meetings to do, like control the lights with your voice, make phone calls, take notes, or analyze the sentiment of meeting participants. The addition of new features is on hold, CTO and cofounder Mark Schnittman told VentureBeat in an interview, until the company can determine what customers want.
“Maybe meeting notes is the thing, or maybe it’s recording and searching meetings, or maybe it’s the nighttime security that’s built in. We’re going to figure that out by working with our customers, and then we can push those over the air updates to create anything we want,” Schnittman said.
Placing hardware in meeting rooms is the first step, he said, adding: “It’s a bit of a Trojan horse: Use this great video conferencing experience to get into the room and then expand in whatever directions make the most sense.”
Once the device gets traction, Owl Labs wants to regularly make additions for customers, said VP of growth, Karen Rubin.
“The Owl, we envision it becoming a platform where every week we’re adding new features and functionality based on what our users want as we learn from our users,” she said. “It’s like Alexa, where every single week you get a new email with updates and things you can do.”
In the office, Meeting Owl faces competition from other companies that provide meeting hardware — ranging from Cisco to Logitech — as well as other smart speakers, like Alexa and even enterprise IoT makers. But Owl Labs could pursue options beyond meetings someday.
“Those algorithms that we have, those sort of camera man algorithms that we have in this product can be applied to a bunch of different places, including the living room,” said CEO and cofounder Max Makeev.
Based in Boston, Owl Labs was created in 2015 and has about 20 employees. The company has raised $7.3 million to date.