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This section introduces the “ETH Value Lab”(http://www.valuelab.ethz.ch) as an ideal space for a group risk assessments with the Visual Manager software. It is a new research and teaching facility for knowledge creation in groups located at ETH Zurich in Switzerland.

The foundation Baugarten Stiftung wanted to realise a “classroom of the future”. This space had to re-invent the idea of a classroom and set new standards for knowledge creation in groups. The goal was that  proven technique such as sketching on a blackboard, like in the old classroom, is still possible but new technology should be used.

Conceptually, our intention was to create an architectural space with daylight, high ceilings, large interactive touch displays and a video conference system. The design imperative was to create a functionally and aesthetically superior space. People should feel comfortable and have easy-to-use technical tools to leverage the PROCESS of creating knowledge in teams.

The spatial dimensions of the architectural space are about 6m width, 10m length and 6 m height. The lab consists of a multi touch table and a multi touch board, HD video projectors and a video conferencing system. We developed the table and the board in close collaboration with external suppliers. The interactive table consists of two 65-inch LCD displays (resolution of each display: 1920×1080 pixels) with an optical touch overlay. The table also has two buttons to adjust the height. The interactive board uses the same technology but consists of three 82-inch LCD displays (resolution of each display: 1920×1080 pixels). We have chosen LCD-screens, not a rear projection system because rear projections have disadvantages such as daylight sensitivity, noise, and service costs for lamps. Our room also had a limited size that did not call for the rear projection construction. The whole system is connected via fibre-optic to a central server in the basement of the building. On this server we have currently installed three operating systems: Macintosh OSX 10.5, Windows XP/Vista and Linux. The basic configuration offers the user two modes: using the five screens as either ONE virtual desktop or as TWO virtual desktops (e.g. for running a Windows operating system on the board and a Macintosh OS on the table). Additionally, three HD projectors, a video conferencing system and a Dolby surround system are installed. The video projectors can present information from an external notebook, from any of the touch screens or from the videoconferencing system.

The ETH Value Lab was launched in October 2008. It has been and will be used in research and teaching within ETH. It is also being used for collaboration with other national and international universities and prime partners from the industry. We regularly hold Visual Manager Workshops in the ETH Value Lab in Zurich. Recently, also in the Value Lab Asia in Singapore at the Future Cities Laboratory.

Not surprisingly, we found out in about five workshops that people prefer to work on the touch display. We also found that people prefer to work on the touch table and not on the wall if they can choose a setting. The reason for this is that they can stand around it, discuss and make eye contact. When they could choose between sitting at the table or standing at the table, the participants preferred to stand.