Corporate workplaces around the world are empty due to the coronavirus pandemic, but Google on Tuesday unveiled new devices for when people eventually return to office conference rooms.
The system of gadgets, called Google Meet Series One, includes a camera, soundbar with eight mics and touchscreen remote. Google partnered with the Chinese manufacturer Lenovo to build the hardware.
The setup relies on Google Meet, the search giant’s Zoom rival, which has surged in popularity as people began to hunker down in their homes earlier this year to fend off the spread of Covid-19. Google boasts that its artificial intelligence software can automatically pan and around the room and focus in on people who are speaking. The company also says its audio tools can use noise cancellation to block out the sounds of typing and people shuffling around and instead amplify peoples voices.
The announcement comes as office life has ground to a halt for many companies, leading workers to swap conference rooms for home offices. At Google, most employees are expected to work remotely at least until July 2021. While the pandemic has forced most workplaces to embrace video meetings, Google’s challenge in the short term will be to convince businesses to invest in fancy office equipment for conference rooms that will be vacant for at least the next couple of months.
“We understand fully well that the office is changing,” TJ Varghese, a product manager at Google, told reporters Monday. “Traditional conference rooms must be reconfigured.” He notes that voice controls, available on the Series One, will be important features when people return to offices.
Google is charging $2,700 for small room setups, $3,000 for medium-sized rooms and $4,000 for large rooms.
Since the pandemic began, Google has been pushing its Meet video software. In April, Google CEO Sundar Pichai said usage of Meet had spiked. He said the service was adding 3 million new users a day during the pandemic, up from 2 million new users a day a few weeks earlier. Google also added a Meet button to Gmail in April, and the redesign makes the integration even more prominent.