IBM, Steelcase Form Office Alliance, Unveils 'BlueSpace': Tech Office of the Future

Jan. 21, 2002

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) - Touch the screen and watch the overhead lights in your office change hue to emulate the late-afternoon sunlight.

Touch the screen again and send more heat to your chilly legs.

Touch it once more and let your co-workers know that you need a little quiet time.

It may sound like the office of tomorrow, but IBM Corp. and office furniture giant Steelcase Inc. are making it the office of today.

The two companies are collaborating to develop BlueSpace, an office system that weds IBM's technological know-how to Steelcase's workplace expertise.

BlueSpace is an office environment intended to enhance productivity, increase employee collaboration and better utilize space. It is also meant to help employers attract and retain quality workers.

``What IBM and Steelcase have done and what BlueSpace represents ... is a lot of knowledge that we have gained over the last number of years on work performance and work process and technology integration,'' said Angela Nahakian, director of marketing of advanced concepts for Grand Rapids-based Steelcase.

Among BlueSpace's features are BlueScreen, an intuitive touch-screen that sits adjacent to a user's computer monitor and ``puts users in control of their physical and virtual environments,'' as the companies' joint news release says.

Users can use the screen to check their planning calendars, adjust the light or room temperature, access real-time news feeds or communicate with their co-workers.

In the BlueSpace system, the computer monitor and touch screen are mounted on a rail that slides horizontally, adjusts vertically and rotates to almost a complete circle. This allows a user to sit almost anywhere in an office and face almost any direction.

Another feature is the threshold, a mobile partial wall and ceiling that can be rolled the length of the workspace to provide on-demand privacy. An integrated front-panel monitor can display information such as current projects and scheduling to colleagues.

``It's a way of enhancing privacy without building walls around you,'' said Joel Stanfield, a Steelcase research engineer working on the project.

BlueSpace also offers something appropriately named the Everywhere Display, a new product from Armonk, N.Y.-based IBM that crisply projects video information onto walls, floors or desktops.

The device's wireless sensing technology allows a finger to act as a cursor. To help cloak confidential information, the technology also allows a guest badge, as its wearer draws near, to automatically trigger a change in a projected image into something generic.

Michael Karasick, chief technology officer of the IBM's Pervasive Computing Division, described the latter feature as ``the equivalent of slamming the laptop down when somebody comes into your office.''

IBM and Steelcase are working with a half-dozen companies - ranging from small businesses to multinational corporations - to evaluate BlueSpace and gather feedback about its existing design and functionality.

Select companies will take part in pilot projects within six to nine months. Representatives of both IBM and Steelcase declined to estimate when BlueSpace will be readily available on the market.

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