The ROCOCO project
During these months (well, a year maybe is more accurate) of remote working, it's interesting to stop a second and think about how everything started. Nearly 30 years ago the ROCOCO (Remote Cooperation and Communication) project was launched. The project investigated the communications requirements of remotely-sited designers working on a shared problem, replicating face-to-face working and enabling a pair of geographically separated designers to communicate in real-time via an eye-to-eye video link, and a shared drawing surface.
A central feature of the ROCOCO Station is the ROCOCO Sketchpad, a computer-based distributed shared drawing surface that allows persons sitting at different computer workstations to share a drawing surface. The surface takes the form of a large "shared-window" which is displayed on each workstation screen. Users have simultaneous access to the drawing surface (the ROCOCO Sketchpad). They are able to draw with a selection of pen-types and can point to existing drawings with a telepoint. The drawing surface can, in principle, be shared by any number of users. The sketchpad is operated via a digitizer and pen. To one side of the workstation, the screen is a "video tunnel" video link (incorporating a video camera and monitor). Users have a high-quality headset audio link.
The ROCOCO Station and an image displayed to the remote designer. Images from "Designing at a Distance via Real-time Designer-to-designer Interaction." Scrivener, S.a.r., D. Harris, S.m. Clark, T. Rockoff, and M. Smyth (1993)
Technology is available to transmit video, voice, text, and images between workstations, so that meetings can be held in which participants can see and hear each other, and even share a whiteboard display, even though they are hundreds or thousands of miles apart. The ROCOCO project was supported by one of the most successful cooperative meeting support environments at that time, the Colab system (Stefik et al., 1987), which consisted of three meeting tools: Cognoter for brainstorming, organizing, and evaluating ideas, Argnoter, a tool for proposing, arguing, and evaluating arguments, and Boardnoter, a tool for freestyle sketching.
30 years ago, before all the tools that we all know (and we are all using) today were available, was still possible to work remotely thanks to the ROCOCO Station. I truly believe in the quote "the past shapes the future" and I am absolutely fascinated by the evolution of technology. What we are witnessing is something extraordinary!