Does the Meeting Owl ring a bell? It was the first product to emerge from Owl Labs, a startup founded in 2014 by iRobot veterans Max Makeev and Mark Schnittman, who sought to develop a platform-agnostic autonomous alternative to conventional meeting room cameras. Their brainchild — the $799 Meeting Owl — was a 2.6-pound, fabric-clad cylinder with USB ports for monitors and PCs and a pair of LEDs meant to mimic the eyes of its namesake. Now, roughly a year after the Meeting Owl’s debut, Owl Labs is gearing up for the launch of its successor.
Owl Labs today began selling the $999 Meeting Owl Pro, which the Somerville, Massachusetts-based company is pitching as a faster and “higher fidelity” experience. Unlike software-based solutions that switch among meeting attendees, the fabric-clad Owl Pro provides a 360-degree view of its surroundings courtesy a camera with a fisheye lens. Its eight-microphone array and algorithms isolate speech and identify, locate, and magnify active speakers, and the Owl Pro automatically creates split views when more than one person is participating (up to three).
“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,” Owl Labs VP of growth Karen Rubin told VentureBeat in an interview last summer. “It’s like Alexa, where every single week you get a new email with updates and things you can do.”
Improvements over the original Meeting Owl abound. For one, the Meeting Owl Pro’s camera is two times sharper, with a 1080p resolution (up from 720p). And its three-speaker, 360-degree sound system is twice as loud, suitable for conference tables up to 18 feet in length. As was true of its predecessor, the Owl Pro plays nicely with most videoconferencing platforms — among them Skype, Zoom, Hangouts, and Slack — and it respond to commands issued remotely from a companion smartphone app.
Owl Labs says that over the next year, it’ll introduce features as a part of its new Smart Room Ecosystem. Specifically, it plans to roll out an IT analytics and fleet management suite, as well as technology to bring whiteboards to remote meeting participants and additional productivity apps.
The Meeting Owl Pro competes against hardware from the likes of Logitech, ConferenceCam, Aver, Vaddio, Polycom, and HuddleCamHD. But fortunately for Owl Labs, the global videoconferencing equipment market is enormous. Research firm Future Market Insights pegs it at $1.6 billion by 2027, driven by the ever-growing percentage of employees who regularly dial into work remotely. And in a recently published Wainhouse Research survey, a whopping two-thirds of respondents reported that their organization plans to install more hardware in small meeting rooms and huddle rooms.
Not for nothing, Owl Labs says its products are used by over 20,000 companies globally across a wide array of segments, including Home Depot, SoulCycle, Ro, Harvard, Ogilvy, Andela, Penn State University, and Rxbar. And in April, it raised $15 million in series B funding led by Spark Capital, with participation from existing investors Matrix Partners and former Android CEO Andy Rubin’s Playground Global.