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AT&T and Ambient Communications Show Off the Future of Telecommuting

Telecommuting is a double-edged sword. Sure you can just slide out of bed and saddle up to your computer in your P.J.s, but you miss out on those important water cooler conversations and idle chitchat that helps build working relationships, not to mention spread ideas. That's where Ambient Communications comes in.

The company, which was on hand during AT&T's recent Innovation Showcase, is developing a new technology that will give telecommuters the opportunity to participate in the kind of social interactions that can only be found in an office setting.

The system works by essentially tapping into a series of always-on webcams, which are positioned in different areas of your office. The telecommuter's display is then filled with different nodes that stream images from every webcam attached to the service. The telecommuter's home webcam is also on all the time.

Ambient Communications reps told us that the system is also capable of understanding when keywords are said within earshot of the webcams, such as the name of a project you are working on or your name, and automatically prompt you to join the conversation.

Of course, there's always the fear that the system will be more of a  Big Brother, constantly making sure that you're at your desk, rather than a tool meant to improve interoffice communication. But Ambient Communications says it is working to ensure its technology doesn't turn into an Orwellian overlord.

In fact, to discourage such practices, users will be able to distort their webcam feeds, making the overall image turn black and leaving chalk-like white outlines surrounding on-screen objects. The idea is to create a kind of frosted glass partition between the user and those watching the feed, allowing users to see if you're in, but not what you're doing.

Ambient Communications said its telepresence system is currently in its testing phase and still requires more work before it can hit the market. Still, if the company can deliver on the majority of the features we saw during our testing, it may transform telecommuting into the experience we've always be promised.