Wired For Work

Yes, the office of the future is a cubicle, but this one is integrated with information technology.

If cars were designed like office cubicles, buyers would start with a chassis and then integrate the rest on their own. That's typical of the sub-optimal way today's office environments are integrated with the IT tools of knowledge workers, charge IBM Corp., New York, and Steelcase Inc., Grand Rapids, Mich. Their solution is BlueSpace, a cubicle-like workstation prototype that is uniquely integrated with advanced computers, sensors, displays and wireless technologies. BlueSpace provides an opportunity for corporate buyers of space and technology to begin to think differently about how they might deploy these tools, notes Jeff Austin, vice president of innovation in the Corporate Real Estate division of Wachovia Corp., Charlotte, N.C. "Many corporate users see workspace as an integrated product, but most companies still deploy space and technology as separate components." Adds Steelcase's Mark Greiner, senior vice president of ventures, concepts and research and development: "The office of the future, like a biological organism, has to be able to adjust, adapt and instantaneously facilitate collaborative interaction," The IBM/Steelcase team began by studying in six types of office environments, including manufacturing, says IBM's Tony Levas, senior software engineer and BlueSpace project leader at the T.J. Watson Research Center, Yorktown Heights, N.Y. Levas says visitors would first notice the status lights on cubicles -- indicating from the aisles whether the worker is available, busy or out of the office. At the cubicle entrance more status information is provided by a flat panel display where the occupant could also leave messages. Once inside, visitors can collaborate via the Everywhere Display (projector technology that can convert any surface in the workspace into a touch screen). Embedded sensors in the cubicle recognize the occupant's identity badge and adjust variables such as lighting, temperature, humidity, white noise and status light. These contextual awareness sensors also detect visitors and automatically change computer displays to shield sensitive information. To facilitate computer navigating among applications and documents, the BlueSpace prototype includes a second 20-inch display. In addition to providing glance-level reference information, the second display also provides touch-screen control of the variables of the workspace environment. Both monitors are rail mounted for easy movement.

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