Beyond Talk And Chalk

Xerox Corp. has good reason to pay attention to any design process that yields both an innovative technology and new products it can bring to market. Its failure to do so a decade ago meant that some of the best ideas emanating from its Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) in California wound up enriching other companies. Two multibillion-dollar examples are the PARC graphical-user interface, which went on to become a smashing success as Apple Computer Inc.'s Macintosh, and the center's printer research, which led to Hewlett-Packard Co.'s market-dominating Laserjet.

In the 1990s, Xerox is obsessed with reversing that trend. Its entry form for the 1993 Industrial Design Excellence Award states that Xerox' "primary objective was to transform technology developed in a research environment into a viable consumer product." The gold award that it received for Liveboard, an electronic blackboard, certainly shows that it has learned a lesson.

Tapping into the booming business in videoconferencing, the Stamford (Conn.) office-equipment company is marketing an electronic blackboard that incorporates computer and video technology. Liveboard provides an on-line forum for interactive meetings anywhere in the world. The machines, priced at $49,500 each, allow participants to share information and to work simultaneously on the same problem.

Liveboard uses a rear-projection, liquid-crystal-display screen, an Intel Corp. 486-based PC that runs Microsoft Windows, and a wireless pen. Starting with a blank screen, users of Liveboard can communicate in

a group or with far-flung colleagues.

When one or more Liveboards are connected, through phone lines, they will enable, say, auto designers in Detroit, Tokyo, and other cities to work together on a new car, download the finished design into a PC, and print out a color copy of the sketch on a laser printer--all in real time.

A menu of options helps even first-timers use the blackboard, and the look of the system is inviting rather than threatening. In addition, the Liveboard is self-contained, so it can be easily moved from room to room. So far, Xerox says about 10 of its machines have been ordered, by customers in education and in the automobile and insurance industries. About half the sales orders have come from overseas.