Project Number:           Telematics for Research 4007

Project Title:                 Multimedia Education and Conferencing Collaboration

                            over ATM Networks and Others (MECCANO)

 
 

 

 

 

 

 

Title of Deliverable:               The support provided to validation projects during Year 2

                                               (June 1999 – May 2000).

Deliverable ID:                    R9.2

Produced by Workpackage:     9

Contractual Date of Delivery:   May 31, 2000

Author(s):        Editor:          Roy Bennett, University College London

                   Contributors:       Kjell Åge Bringsrund, UiO;  Jochen Lienhard, UF;

                                          Andreas Rozek, RUS; Jörg Ott, TELES;

                                               Radoslaw Ruchala, ACC

                                       

 

 

 

Abstract:

The MECCANO project has, during its second year, continued to further improve its multimedia conferencing toolkit for multimedia collaboration.

The tools used by the project, whether developed by MECCANO or from other sources, are proven within the project by the activities of WP8, Consolidation of Applications. Further validation and important user feedback is provided by those projects and users using the MECCANO tools in their work. Some we actively support as part of WP9, Support for Validation Sites. In this document we report on the work of supporting these users during the second year of the project.

The projects we support use the tools under the real conditions for remote teaching, seminars and distributed virtual meetings. We describe the work of these projects and the progress that has been made by them and by us.

 

Keyword list:

Multimedia Conferencing, Distance Education, Mbone, User support, Validation.

a
 
 



Contents

 


Introduction. 4

Partner reports. 4

ACC, Krakow, Poland. 4

Institute of Social Studies, Warsaw University. 4

Support provided. 4

User response. 5

Medical community in Krakow.. 5

Support provided. 5

The Polish Internet community. 5

Support provided. 5

Summary of the user response in Poland. 6

Future plans. 6

CRC, Ottawa, Canada. 7

Support provided. 7

RUS, Stuttgart, Germany. 7

ESPRIT Project REDISE. 7

Support provided. 7

User response. 7

Future plans. 8

German Philosophers’ workshop. 8

Support provided. 8

User response. 8

Future plans. 9

TELES, Berlin, Germany. 9

Support provided. 9

User response. 10

Future plans. 11

UCL, London, UK.. 11

PIPVIC2. 11

Support provided. 11

User response. 12

Future plans. 13

Internet Collaboration Board (ICB) 13

Support provided. 13

User response. 13

Future plans. 13

ICE-CAR.. 13

Support provided. 13

User response. 13

Future plans. 13

The Universities of Freiburg and Mannheim, Germany. 13

Support provided. 14

User response. 14

Future plans. 14

The University of Oslo. 15

Multicast multimedia support service for UNINETT. 15

Support provided. 15

User response. 15

Future Plans. 15

The Distributed Media Journaling project 15

User response. 15

Future plans. 16

Summary. 16

Conclusions. 16

References. 18

Appendix I 19

The context of the MECCANO support for the VIROR project 19

Network infrastructure. 19

Use of the tools. 20

Recording and replay. 21

Appendix II 22

The Distributed Media Journaling project 22

 


Introduction

The objectives of Work-package 9 are to ensure that the MECCANO software releases [1] meet the needs of the different validation activities using the packages. This includes both fixing problems in the Releases, and ensuring that the contents of the Releases meet the needs of the validation projects. The background to the workpackage is given in the following paragraphs.

During the first year of the project, the five partners in this workpackage, together with partners University of Freiburg and the University of Mannheim, successfully supported eight projects as we reported in deliverable R9.1 [1]. This year, as last, the detailed activities have been driven by the needs, activities and desires of the projects which we support. Although we allocate specific effort to the liaison and tailoring tasks which are described in this deliverable, much effort has also been put into the technical workpackages to support these projects.

We continue to provide a limited Help Desk facility, via email lists, providing users of the MECCANO tools with direct help in their use on the various platforms we support and in the network environments in which we operate.

In the following pages we summarise the work we have done during the second year in support of the projects. Each of the partners involved in the workpackage has produced a report and the whole is summarised.

Partner reports

The partners reporting in this workpackage are:

TELES has redirected most of its effort in this work package to Workpackage 6. New Learning, with effort assigned in the workpackage, has made no real contribution during this year in which it has undergone major reorganisation. These changes have been reported in the relevant management reports.

However, work has continued at the universities of Freiburg, Mannheim and Oslo to supplement the work of the remaining three partners in this workpackage. We review the work of each of the partners in the following sections.

ACC, Krakow, Poland

During the second year of MECCANO project ACC have supported three main user groups, which were interested in using video conferencing tools developed or enhanced during the project.

 

Institute of Social Studies, Warsaw University

Support provided

In conjunction with the School of Slavonic and East European Studies (SSEES), the Institute of Social Studies at Warsaw University (UW) transmitted a series of ten lectures under the title Social Change: Adaptation and Resistance. ACC, in conjunction with the Centre for Open Distance Multimedia at the UW, assisted in organising the transmissions and provided technical support during the project, specifically during the transmission of the lectures. As a validation site, UW was responsible for providing seminar content and using MECCANO tools during the lectures.

Every Wednesday from 12.30 to 14.00 MET a lecture was transmitted to the MBone. We used both multicast connectivity and unicast reflector to provide the best quality of the seminar, independent of the inadequacies of the current multicast network in Europe. All the lectures were announced in SDR tool under the common title UW Lectures.

Most of the audience for the seminars was at SSEES in London, but the lectures were also freely available to other participants. We used the RAT and VIC tools for transmitting audio and video between the sites. Additionally NTE was used for behind the scenes technical discussions, which did not disturb the lecture, but were very important.

More information about the seminar series can be found at the ACC MECCANO website [2] under  UW Lectures.

User response

Distance teaching by videoconferencing was quite new for UW students representing Faculties of Humanities, Psychology and related topics. The audience present during the lecture was participating in it as in a normal lecture. The only difference was that additional listeners were present on a screen – those from SSEES, ACC and others. This however did not disturb the students at all.

The technical staff (i.e. representatives of the Telematics Applications Division) had had some three years’ experience of videoconferencing collaboration across ISDN networks using professional, dedicated equipment. So, this was for us a natural reference point for estimation of the MECCANO tools quality.

Medical community in Krakow

This group was represented by John Paul II Hospital (650 beds, 1300 employees), which is a specialist medical centre with several pulmunological and cardiological wards. The hospital comprises 13 wards, most of them focused on chest medicine. There are also two surgical departments, one for cardiac surgery and the other for thoracic surgery. Two thousand open-heart operations are performed in the hospital annually. John Paul II Hospital is one of the most advanced hospitals in the region in terms of the development of information infrastructure. During 1998/1999 the hospital was equipped with the high-end campus network infrastructure based on 622MB/s ATM and switched Fast Ethernet.

Support provided

ACC provides JPII medical personnel with technical support on videoconferencing facilities, particularly helping them with MECCANO tools usage for internal and external communication. We have also presented them with suggestions for the use of videoconferencing tools together with the SVDA system providing a video server and archive storage. Sample movies of heart operations have been created with SVDA and JMFPlayer applications. These are currently in use.

The Polish Internet community

Support provided

As MECCANO tools are oriented towards a wide group of users, ACC has been working on preparing Polish language version of videoconferencing website. We experienced a substantial interest in Internet video conferencing after publishing an article about MECCANO project in a leading Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza. To encourage this, we have provided Polish users with native support on MECCANO videoconferencing tools as well as the translations of the VIC, RAT and SDR manuals, which were prepared during the project first year. We are also continuously providing, on our ACC web server, an up-to-date mirror of the main MECCANO conferencing tools site at UCL. This provides Polish users with a better facility for downloading the necessary software.

The web site has information about multicast connectivity and a How to start videoconferencing manual. We have also provided special user technical support mailing address, where users can get support in Polish.

Summary of the user response in Poland

The validation activities have revealed that the current release of the MECCANO tools provides sufficient functionality and stability for the purpose of the collaborative video conferencing not only over Krakow Metropolitan Area Network but also inside POL-34 and TEN-155 networks. Those users evaluating the current MECCANO tools who had worked with the older versions of the tools noticed a substantial increase in the stability and reliability of the latest versions.

An important milestone for MECCANO in Poland was the increase in the bandwidth of the Polish research Internet backbone to 34 Mb/s and its connection to TEN-155 established in March 1999. Then further improvements of network connectivity in Poland have made it possible to use the MECCANO tools not just on LANs and MANs but also across Poland and the whole of Europe. Many users tend to identify low quality audio and video caused by network congestion with low quality of the tools themselves. Hence ACC's efforts in enhancing network connectivity in Poland, made at the State Committee for Scientific Research level, seems to have had a direct impact on users' opinions on the streaming multimedia tools provided by MECCANO.

From the users’ viewpoint, the MECCANO tools provide a simple and easy-to-use environment for global videoconferencing without any special equipment requirements; a personal computer with camera and headset is all that is required to use MECCANO tools. Users found the installation process and the use of the tools to be really simple. Documentation for the tools is clear and available in several languages (Polish among them); technical support for the tools is provided by ACC site in Poland and the main MECCANO tools site is very helpful.

Another important advantage of the tools is that they are available on a range of system platforms and can be used on the normal Internet, with multicast service as beneficial feature, without the need for additional features like ISDN connectivity or extra networking equipment. The bandwidth needed for adequate connectivity is not very high, so most of the people having normal Internet connectivity at their site are able to use MECCANO tools.

Organising lecture transmission requires additionally special facilities in the conference room, which on our case were already present at Centre for Open Distance Multimedia at UW. This is not directly connected with MECCANO tools, but plays important role in successful organising lecture transmission.

Audio and video quality during the seminars was generally acceptable to participants, except for the few times when network connectivity had impact on the quality. The RAT features silence suppression and lecture mode were also very helpful.

Users wanted a suitable tool for slide presentations over the network using a Windows computer (DLB being available only on Solaris platforms). Such a tool, or a port of DLB, needs to be provided as soon as possible as it is crucial for successful lecture or presentation transmissions in very many cases.

Future plans

UW is currently working to improve the multicast connectivity of its campus network. ACC will continue to co-operate with UW in the field of multimedia videoconferencing after the end of the project.

Contacts with JPII Hospitals will also continue, as both it and ACC are participants in the Centre of Excellence in the field of telemedicine. There are plans to use MECCANO videoconferencing tools in that context.

In view of the continuing growth in interest in videoconferencing, ACC plans to continue to mirror the UCL web site and to provide technical support to Polish Internet users.

CRC, Ottawa, Canada

Support provided

CRC has spent a total of 3.0 pms on providing a regular contribution to monitoring and trouble shooting the multicast network during the distributed course sessions. This work has taken place as part of a broader programme of monitoring the national and international multicast support in CA*netII. CRC has exchanged information on the MECCANO multicast conferencing tools with other participants in this programme.

RUS, Stuttgart, Germany

Although not an official participant in the workpackage, RUS provided support to two groups of users with a great deal of success.

ESPRIT Project REDISE

The objective of the ESPRIT Project REDISE was to enable the use of expensive software, installed on a central server, to be accessed remotely. The application scenario consisted of the software user, the system running the application and an application expert to help the user overcome problems.

Support provided

An initial study had shown the need for application sharing and reliable audio/video communication between three sites on the Internet. As a consequence, an H.323 tool (NetMeeting) was used along with the MECCANO tools VIC and RAT. After initial set-up problems (e.g. the drivers of some sound cards and the frame-grabber boards did not work properly under Windows NT) the tools worked stable and met the need of the project participants.

As part of this co-operation with REDISE, installation and operation manuals were written in German and published on the WWW.  These manuals have already been distributed several times  and help people to become familiar with NetMeeting, the MECCANO tools and VNC (the “Virtual Network Computer” originally developed by Olivetti Research Labs).

User response

The result of our activities in the context of REDISE (as seen from the other partners) may be summarised as follows:

-          the set-up of a (multicast) conferencing environment may be non-trivial (this opinion mainly results from numerous problems with PC hardware (interrupt conflicts, malicious drivers, conflicting processes) but also from multicast "routing" problems on systems with more than one network interface card)

-          security features (encryption) have been considered important due to the nature of the information discussed during a conference

-          network capacities of 2 Mbps or better are recommended for conferences with NetMeeting, RAT and VIC between two partners, from 10 Mbps onwards such a set-up becomes comfortable 

The following table shows a merely subjective valuation of the conferencing tools used within REDISE:

 

Installation

Operation

Application Sharing (NetMeeting)

+

0

Audio (RAT)

-

+

Text Editor, Whiteboard

+

+

Video (VIC)

+

-

 

In spite of any problems, the REDISE partners recommend the use of network conferencing tools (such as those of MECCANO) for distributed software development and quality assurance as they help to reduce the "time-to-market". This opinion has also been presented during a "REDISE Workshop", which demonstrated the whole concept to a number of interested SMEs.

Future plans

For the time being, there are no concrete plans at RUS to continue this activity. However, the MECCANO tools as such, and related developments such as our PacketReflector, will be promoted whenever and wherever possible.

Additional information, in both German and English, can be found at the project web site [3].

German Philosophers’ workshop

This philosophy workshop consisted of a weekly series of discussions about Internet-related topics in philosophy. The workshop was planned between two German groups of philosophers (one in Stuttgart, the other in Leipzig) and officially announced to the public.

Support provided

Due to massive routing problems, all attempts to use the Mbone failed. Fortunately, this problem did not affect the workshop itself, but made it impossible for other interested people to participate from outside. During the first two sessions, the philosophers, most of them being very untrained computer users, had problems becoming familiar with the various MECCANO tools. However, from the third session onwards, they were able to concentrate on their discussion rather than the computer applications.

User response

Although all participants enjoyed the workshop, they saw the following problems:

·         the presence of a technical expert is needed in order to quickly locate and solve any problems.
In practice, it turned out to be difficult for untrained users to decide, e.g., whether the audio communication broke because of operational mistakes at the remote site, losses within the network or local problems. Tool developers should also try to automate as much as possible (e.g.: microphone gain setting by means of Automatic Gain Control) and provide immediate feedback for any communication-relevant parameters (e.g. reception quality at the remote site)

·         proper technical equipment is required in order to guarantee user-friendly operation
e.g. a room microphone with built-in echo cancellation is vital for hands-free audio communication in the style of a "normal" discussion

·         a good network "connection" is needed for conferences of satisfactory quality

Additional information (in German) and photographs of both participating groups can be found on the RUS MECCANO web site [4].

Future plans

Another seminar, similar to the one described above but with a different topic, is planned for autumn this year. Additionally, the partners in Stuttgart and Leipzig are looking for funding to realise further projects of this kind in the future.

TELES, Berlin, Germany

TELES and UB have continued their close co-operation in WP9; the focus remained on hardware and software for gateways.  On a number of occasions, support was given for setting up conference environments using MECCANO tools and carrying out early applicable testing of MECCANO tools in different scenarios as well as helping users to install and use the AudioGate software delivered as part of MECCANO.

Support provided

A German research project on the combined use of wireless networking, interactive multimedia conferencing and data mining/data base technologies for inspecting and maintaining industrial machinery (the WINSPECT project) was provided with MECCANO tools and support for evaluating their use on wearable computers. This included consulting in the areas of system design, tool selection and network analysis as well as preparing (installation, test, etc.) mobile computing equipment and carrying out specific field trials. As the WINSPECT project is still in its early stages, primarily concerned with system design, no studies with end users could be carried out during the overlap period with MECCANO.

The German WIPTEL project piloting an IP telephony infrastructure for the German research network (WiN) was supported with respect to gateway design and deployment. A prototype of a PRI IP telephony gateway has been made available and experience from the design of AudioGate and StarGate (as well as pieces of the software itself) have been provided as input to WIPTEL.  WIPTEL is an infrastructure project and, similar to WINSPECT, the project is still in the stages of development so that no end user trials could be carried out.

Within the MECCANO project, partner sites were supported in installing and testing gateway components. This extended to persons/institutions using AudioGate outside the MECCANO project. The support includes providing interested partners with ISDN hardware and drivers for Linux as well as assisting during the installation process. Furthermore, a mailing list has been created where interested parties can gain support and access to MECCANO expertise for AudioGate. A software archive provides code and accompanying installation information to users.

Within Bremen University, AudioGate has been demonstrated on numerous official occasions where some feedback from those presenting as well as from customers could be obtained.

Finally, supporting activities have not been limited to tools and tool components.  In addition, the Message Bus (Mbus) infrastructure has been made available to other projects (at the Bremen University). In particular, a two-year student project for deploying IP telephony in the computer science department (UniTel) has used the Mbus infrastructure as the basis for its system architecture (endpoints and administration components) and makes use of the MECCANO tool RAT for audio communications. Also, the architecture of software components developed at UB in the context of WIPTEL is based on the Mbus. As general support requires, once again a software archive and several mailing lists have been created. For Mbus, a web site [5] has also been set up to foster the use of the Mbus infrastructure in a wider field.

User response

As mentioned before, the projects that were directly supported with MECCANO tools during this delivery period did not involve interaction with end users.  Instead, the focus was on supplying technology to projects that could either directly use it in different scenarios (WINSPECT) or develop the technology further (WIPTEL, UniTel).

Despite the lack of end user involvement, in both cases, we can report various findings based upon feedback from the designers:

·         In WINSPECT, in turned out to be very difficult to turn the wearable computers available at that time (MA III, MA IV from xybernaut) into multimedia conferencing platforms - even for rather constrained application scenarios (in terms of frame rate, number of parties involved in a conference).  Neither MS Windows nor Linux were really suitable and reliable platforms.  Problems were encountered with hardware and operating system (MS Windows) performance, hardware support through the operating system (Linux), and overall system stability (both).  At the end of MECCANO, there is still a lot of work to do to make conferencing tools really scale in terms of hardware and network environments.  Network performance (both throughput and loss rate) were also not satisfactory using 802.11 at 1 Mbit/s; the situation improved with the 11 Mbit/s variant of 802.11 but is not yet really sufficient. This is mainly because the nature of the 802.11 protocol is not ideal for continuous media traffic.

·         In WIPTEL and UniTel, it was observed that numerous Mbus commands needed improvement.  This input was fed back into MECCANO and the requirements have already been addressed as far as possible.

Also, numerous shortcomings of RAT were found when using it in an IP telephony environment.  In particular, this concerned its configuration via the Mbus and reconfiguration of the transport addresses to be used for communication with the conference peers.  A lively information exchange took place between MECCANO and these other projects which led to a number of improvements.  By the end of MECCANO, most of the issues raised had been addressed.

·         To the end user, AudioGate turned out to be acceptable with a simple voice menu that is intuitively to understand and very straightforward.  The only shortcoming observed so far is the fact that AudioGate does not accept calls originating from analogue phone lines: calls from ISDN lines and GSM phones, as well as all tested international calls, terminated by AudioGate succeed.  It appears to be a configuration problem with the Linux kernel that incoming calls from analogue lines are not even delivered to AudioGate (and hence cannot be answered).

The configuration mechanism available for AudioGate still needs improvement.  It has become apparent that the personal identification of a caller and the display of an AudioGate user's name (instead of phone number) are desirable.  If a calling party's phone number is available, it should be possible for a user to suppress it. Personal permissions and conference access codes need to be intermixed by using Calling Line Identification services. Together with numerous further additions, this calls for a much more sophisticated configuration file format and possibly additional means for making changes (e.g. a web interface). Finally, no freely available and adequate speech synthesis software for Linux could be found to enable rule-based automated generation of the announcements for the voice menu. This limits the use of AudioGate to rather static session configurations at the moment (or, alternatively, an "operator-assisted" type of service).

The feedback collected during the first reporting period and summarised in R9.1 [1] could not be implemented in the respective projects. In particular, CONTRABAND and the university Mbone-based seminar/lecture projects finished in the first half of 1999, so that there was virtually no time available to jointly pursue these goals.

Future plans

Our plans include the further consolidation of AudioGate to incorporate all the requirements we have gathered during the trials as well as through other cooperations.

UCL, London, UK

UCL has continued to support the work of the UK project Piloting IP Videoconferencing (PIPVIC2) [6]. This project, a large-scale pilot funded by the United Kingdom Education and Research Network Association (UKERNA) [7], ended in October 1999. On a smaller scale, UCL has continued the work with the Internet Collaboration Board (ICB) [8] and the Interworking Public Key Certification Infrastructure for Commerce, Administration and Research (ICE-CAR) project [9].

PIPVIC2

The project started in December 1998. Its aim was to undertake piloting activities to gain a greater understanding of the issues encountered in running a large-scale IP videoconferencing service. It was a core part of the UKERNA videoconferencing strategy. The project, with thirteen partners, was co-ordinated by University College London. The other Higher Education Institution partner sites are:

·         University of Birmingham 

·         Dundee University 

·         University of Edinburgh 

·         University of Essex

·         University of Exeter 

·         University of Glasgow 

·         Glasgow Caledonian University 

·         University of Manchester 

·         The School of Slavonic and East European Studies of the University of London (SSEES) 

·         St. Andrews University

·         University of Wales at Aberystwyth

·         University of Westminster 

The project was active in teaching, research and administration. The teaching activities provided a number of real courses, including languages, film studies, sociology, computer networking and business. Research activities were in the field of particle physics and collaboration in data archiving. Administrative tasks in which the project was active included external examiners meetings and project meetings of the several projects, including PIPVIC2 itself.

Support provided

The support provided to the project by MECCANO can be summarised under four headings:

As a result of providing this help, we received important feedback from users of the tools both on their usability and the general utility of the technology for their purposes.

Installation of tools

The actual installation of the tools on PC platforms, which are the most commonly used in the PIPVIC2 project, consists of simply running a self-extracting binary installation file. On workstation platforms the software is provided as a binary file. The source is also provided for local compilation, if necessary.

Most of the problems encountered in this area arose from the variation in the specification of the hardware components in PCs. This variation in the components makes it impossible to ensure that a single version of the software will run correctly on any platform. Typical of these problems were

These problems do still occur occasionally, but, in the main, have only to be solved for a new user or when using a new machine.

We have also experienced some difficulties in the maintenance of version control amongst users. Although we try to maintain backward compatibility in new versions of the tools this is not always possible. In an environment of rapidly changing versions, driven by user feedback on both bugs and new feature requests, this has proved to need constant attention.

Modification of the tools

The main requirement that has arisen from working with the PIPVIC2 project has been for changes to the NTE to allow the use of alternative character sets for language teaching. This facility has been implemented for Microsoft platforms (Win95, Win98 and NT4.0) using the Microsoft Multi-language Support features for these platforms on which the project has standardised. This work was completed in the first year of the project.

Network analysis to identify connectivity problems

During the regular weekly project meetings and in the course of other project activities, members of the MECCANO team at UCL have continued to provide analysis of network problems locally and have joined with others at the remote PIPVIC2 sites in collecting statistics. Where problems have been identified MECCANO team members have liased with UKERNA to solve them. Additionally they have joined with networking specialists at PIPVIC2 partner sites to run diagnostic tests designed to identify structural problems both in the backbone network and in the connections to desktops and conference rooms at local sites.

User support during project activities

This has been provided by the presence of a member of the MECCANO project team at UCL whenever an activity involving UCL was taking place. This team member has provided technical support and trouble shooting for those taking part. Team members also provided a continuous email help line for the supported MECCANO tools and were able to respond quickly to requests from users.

User response

In order to gauge user reaction to the use of the tools, a number of analyses were produced for specific activities. These reports are available from the PIPVIC2 project web site [6]. In general, user response was favourable. There was a positive approach to problems with or deficiencies in the tools; users were keen to work with the MECCANO project to provide improved tools with the specific features needed for use in these real applications. 

Future plans

The project is complete and the JANET Video Conferencing Advisory Service (VCAS) [10] willprovide support for the individual project participants in future.

Internet Collaboration Board (ICB)

Support provided

We have continued to provide the network and tool support to the ICB on request.

User response

Response has been positive, particularly to our provision of IPv6 versions of the major tools as requested last year.

Future plans

There are no plans for continuing support of these users.

ICE-CAR

The objective of this project is to provide all the technology components to support the secure use of the Internet for commercial and administrative applications in Europe. The project is improving security toolsets from the perspective of usability and interoperability and deploying them.

Support provided

We have liased closely with the project on the improvements that have been made to the Session Directory (SDR) [11] in its ability to handle secure conferences. An improved version of this tool is delivered as part of the final delivery of MECCANO tools. We have also helped them to deploy and test the new MECCANO secure conference store (SPAR).

User response

There has been only limited use of the tools by the project, but it has identified the need to modify SDR and provided input to the development of SPAR.

Future plans

The ICE-CAR project will continue to work with the MECCANO conferencing environment, but there are no plans for its continuing support.

The Universities of Freiburg and Mannheim, Germany

The MECCANO toolkit is used for a large remote education project between the four upper Rhine universities: Freiburg, Mannheim, Karlsruhe, and Heidelberg. The project called VIROR (Virtuelle Hochschule Oberrhein) [12] intensifies the remote teaching efforts between these four partners, which started 1996. It encompasses several departments ranging from computer science to business and language studies.

MECCANO support has been provided through the University of Freiburg and the University of Mannheim, which are involved in both MECCANO and VIROR. This co-operation has provided feedback on the use of the MECCANO toolkit from a large group of real users. MECCANO tools are used for VIROR in two different ways: for the live transmission of regular lectures and for the recording, storage, and replay of past lectures. The most important aspect of VIROR in the context of MECCANO is that regular lectures and seminars are broadcast as teleteaching events. This is done as a service for real users - lecturers and students. All VIROR activities are observed and evaluated by psychologists to provide feedback to tool developers and lecturers.

Further details of the context in which the MECCANO support has been given are included in Appendix I.

Support provided

During the semester (October 1999 - February 2000), UM and UF provided support for three weekly teleteaching events.

In detail these events are:

  1. a regular lecture given by Prof. Dr. Ottmann about Algorithm Theory
  2. a student seminar about 'computing in the internet'

(http://www.aifb.uni-karlsruhe.de:80/Lehrangebot/Winter1999-00/TeleseminarVIROR/)

  1. one seminar with invited speakers on popular scientific topics.

During the semester (May - July 2000), UM and UF are providing support for four weekly teleteaching events.

In detail these events are:

  1. a regular lecture given by Prof. Dr. Ottmann on Geometric Algorithms
  2. a regular lecture given by Prof. Dr. Effelsberg on Computer Networks

(both lectures use AOF-recorded presentations with live exercises).

  1. a student seminar on using Smartcards
  2. one seminar with invited speakers on popular scientific topics.

These events are broadcast over the Mbone. However, a dedicated ATM backbone (2 Mb/s) is used between project partners to guarantee high quality and prevent network-related unreliability. The toolset varied slightly between the events and included: AOFwb, DLB, MVoD, SDR, VAT, VIC and WB.

During all events, UM and UF were responsible for set-up and maintenance of the tools and network connectivity. For the seminars, the speakers are generally unfamiliar with the toolset and need an introduction on how to use the tools as well as how to do a telepresentation. This training is provided in the form of practice sessions that are held 2-3 days prior to the real event. Whenever AOFwb or the DLB are used, the feedback from the participants and the experience of the technical support staff are used to discover, track and fix bugs as well as to improve the tools with new functionality desired by the users.

User response

The lectures of Prof. Dr. Ottmann and the student seminars are evaluated by psychologists. The results of the evaluation will be made available as soon as the analysis of the data is complete. Individual comments, however, show that the acceptance of teleteaching on the student side depends more on the content and the quality of the presentation of the lecture/seminar than on technical issues. The lecturers frequently indicated that the process of getting slides into WB/DLB/AOFwb is still quite complicated, especially when MS Office (PowerPoint/WinWord) applications are used to prepare slides. The success of the AOFwb recording for last year's lecture on Algorithm Theory (Prof. Dr. Ottmann), sold to the students on CD-ROM and used by the majority of the students for examination preparations, mirrors that of the previous recording of the lecture on Computer Networks (Prof. Dr. Effelsberg).

Future plans

In the next Semester (Oct 2000 - Feb 2001) there will be one seminar with invited speakers. All partners (Freiburg, Mannheim, Karlsruhe and Heidelberg) will take part in this seminar. The following MECCANO tools will be used: RAT, VIC, DLB and AOFwb.

The University of Oslo

Multicast multimedia support service for UNINETT

Since May 1999, the Institute of Informatics at the University of Oslo has been running a multicast support service on behalf of UNINETT. The main objective of this service was to stimulate use of real-time multimedia services (i.e. the MECCANO tools) on the multicast internet and to offer practical support to UNINETT users who either already use, or wish to start using, such tools.

Support provided

As part of the latter activity, support personnel also visited institutions that were completely unfamiliar with the multicast world to help them to get going.

A web site provides updated information on multicast, the services provided and other relevant issues. The UCL multicast services pages are mirrored on the site.

Work has been started with the aim of building an archive containing multimedia material that can be useful for UNINETT member institutions. Since the members are mainly educational institutions, this material primarily has a content relevant for educational applications.

User response

During the past six months, there have been an average of 73,000 hits per month on the web page, the actual figures being:

 

January

February

March

April

May

June

47,193

96,577

30,722

70,623

167,824

25,042

 

In addition, some 3 to 5 e-mails are received and answered each month. These are requests for answers to specific questions regarding usage of the MECCANO tools in Norway.

Future Plans

Distributed multimedia services will continue to be made available after the MECCANO project e.g. sound from the parliament, video recordings from seminars and conferences and archive material of important events which have taken place at the University during the past 20 years.

The Distributed Media Journaling project

Media journaling is a blanket term to refer to a broad class of applications in which users have the capability to capture multimedia content and related information of real-world activities as they happen. They also can also process the media so as to create a segmented, synchronised multimedia record of events. The research focuses on the development of a framework for on-line (real-time) processing of networked multimedia sessions for the purpose of indexing and annotating the data being analysed. A more detailed description of the work of this project is included as Appendix II.

In order to be able to validate the theoretical results of the project, a prototype implementation has been established, including a media server and several work stations which are connected to the multicast Internet.

During the past year, the MECCANO tools VIC, RAT and SDR have been used by the Distributed Media Journaling project for testing purposes and supported by the project.

User response

So far, this project has been purely research; however, efforts are being made to get a pilot going and some of the results from this will probably be made available on the UNINETT Mbone server

(described above). User responses will be investigated at this time.

Future plans

Plans exist to start using the MECCANO tool Multicast Multimedia Conference Recorder (MMCR) in the near future.

Summary

The project has continued to make progress in the support of projects and users who are actually using the MECCANO tools for real applications, not just for trials. We have responded to the feedback from our users by improving the tools and modifying them to meet new needs.

During this second year our manpower efforts have varied with the pattern of needs of our user community. Some partners, such as CRC and UCL have had an ongoing programme of support at a modest level since the start of the project. Others have applied a more sporadic effort in line with the needs of their particular users. ACC have continued the collaboration with a major hospital in Krakow. In the table below we summarise the effort (pms) of those partners with assigned effort in this workpackage.


Reporting Period

Partner

Jun/July

1999

Aug/Sep

Oct/Nov

Dec/Jan

2000

Feb/Mar

Apr/May

TOTAL

C1        UCL

0.44

0.80

0.30

0.32

0.18

0.20

  2.24

C2        ACC

0.75

0.50

0.50

1.00

0.50

0.25

  3.50

C3        CRC

0.50

0.50

0.50

0.50

0.50

0.50

  3.00

A6.1        NL

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

A7.3       UM

0.50

1.00

1.00

1.00

1.00

1.00

  5.50

C8    TELES

-

-

0.15

0.25

0.40

0.10

  0.90

TOTAL

2.19

2.80

2.45

3.07

2.58

2.05

15.14

Table 1: Effort reported (pms).

We report the work of the University of Mannheim in this deliverable since it is related to support of another project rather than the proving of the tools within the MECCANO project itself. The reported manpower is, therefore, that assigned to WP8 rather than WP9.

Conclusions

We can draw a number of general conclusions from the user responses and the observations of the support staff involved in the many supported activities. The first, most obvious, point is that the availability of technical support is still vital to the successful use of the conferencing tools by the general community of Internet users. The level of technical knowledge needed to use them successfully is far greater than that for the run of web browsers and email tools with which these users are familiar. This does not reflect the usability of the tools themselves, although we have identified and corrected some problems in this area;  it is more the difficulties with the installation of the tools, the problems of multicast network connectivity and the need to train occasional users in the use of unfamiliar tools and in the control of the analogue devices – microphones, headsets, cameras, etc.

In respect of tool installation, we have experienced continuing problems with the many and various boards for analogue-to-digital conversion – audio cards and video frame-grabbers – and their various drivers. This is a particular problem for users of the many Windows platforms, where the variables - hardware platform, operating system, I/O card and device driver - produce a huge number of possible combinations. The same problems do exist on other platforms, but they are usually less important as there are fewer variants and fewer users. There is no obvious solution to this unless to provide a pre-configured set-up for conferencing similar to that used for H.320 and ATM videoconferencing; the strength of the Internet conferencing model is that it is available on a user’s existing platform. The introduction of H.323 tools for IP videoconferencing has limited the scope for these problems in providing hardware and software solutions as a single package and this model may provide the way forward for the IP multicast tools such as those of MECCANO.

Adequate network connectivity is vital for the success of all videoconferencing applications, from simple point-to-point, telephone-like uses to multiparty, multimedia lectures and conferences. Without network specialists in attendance, it is hard for users to communicate with the providers; even when network staff are available, there remains the problem of finding the fault. It has been our experience that often there is not time to correct error conditions during the average one to one and a half-hour session. National networks have proved generally more reliable than international links, possibly due to the increased complexity of the new generation of multicast protocols and the inexperience of staff in using them, a problem that may be expected to reduce over time. More discussion of networking problems experienced during the project can be found in the networking deliverable D5.1/5.2 [13].

With all the computer systems correctly installed and working, there remains the need to prepare adequately to achieve success in conferencing. This is true of any existing conferencing technology, including commercial systems using guaranteed-bandwidth. There may be problems with analogue peripherals and there is the need to set audio levels, adjust cameras and teach the inexperienced user to control the tools needed for the presentation. This extract from a 1994 paper [14] of the MICE project [15] is still true today; this need to prepare has not diminished in the last six years.

To stage a successful seminar, speaker, moderator and technical support people at all sites need to be well prepared: testing of equipment and settings is essential. Speakers need to prepare visual material in advance, and need some practice in driving the audio and Shared Workspace tools.

The work of the project in supporting users has identified and addressed a number of problems that have improved the efficacy of the tools in use. To improve our support, we have provided user guides in English, Polish and German; we have set up email user help lines and highly-commended web sites at partner locations. With the increased network capacity now available in many European countries, we have been able to support successful educational and research collaborations within countries and, less frequently, between them. Users have commended the provision of encryption in the tools, though not used it much. One key problem identified by most of our users is the need for an easy way to introduce slides into the multicast conferencing environment. This facility has existed for PostScript slides since the introduction of the LBL whiteboard tool, WB, some eight years ago; more recently it has been introduced in the MECCANO tool from the University of Mannheim, DLB, but this runs only on Solaris platforms. The success of PowerPoint and the introduction of the facility to use PowerPoint slides in the H.323 product, NetMeeting, have made the need more sharply visible. Our response, too late for this project, is to develop an new version of the DLB, its functionality merged with that of the University of Freiburg tool AOFwb, which will provide such facilities in the multicast domain and on the Windows platforms.

Finally, we should stress the importance of the existence of a support facility both for advice and for bug fixes. Many new users experience simple problems; without some facility to support them, the users will be turned off before they even start. There are often some problems with tools; it makes a very big psychological difference if the complainants feel someone will eventually deal with genuine bugs.

References.

[1]        MECCANO Project web site – Deliverables:

http://www-mice.cs.ucl.ac.uk/multimedia/projects/meccano/deliverables

[2]        MECCANO web site at ACC: http://www.cs.agh.edu.pl/Meccano/

[3]        The Remote and Distributed Software Engineering Project (REDISE):

http://caprice.dlr.de/redise/

[4]        MECCANO web site at RUS – Philosophie und Internet:

http://www-ks.rus.uni-stuttgart.de/PKB/Projects/MECCANO/Philosophie_und_Internet/

[5]        Mbus Technology: http://www.mbus.org/

[6]        Piloting IP Videoconferencing (PIPVIC2):

http://www-mice.cs.ucl.ac.uk/multimedia/projects/pipvic2/

[7]        United Kingdom Education and Research Network Association (UKERNA):

http://www.ukerna.ac.uk/

[8]        Internet Collaboration Board (ICB): http://www.cs.ucl.ac.uk/staff/jon/arpa/icb/

[9]        ICE-CAR Project web site: http://ice-car.darmstadt.gmd.de/

[10]      JANET Video Conferencing Advisory Service: http://www.vcas.video.ja.net/

[11]      Session Direcory (SDR): http://www-mice.cs.ucl.ac.uk/multimedia/software/sdr/

[12]      The virtual university project (VIROR): http://www.viror.de/

[13]      MECCANO deliverable D5.1/5.2, Support for network technologies in the MECCANO tools and performance characteristics of the MECCANO systems and their effect on system parameters. Available from

http://www-mice.cs.ucl.ac.uk/multimedia/projects/meccano/deliverables/

[14]      U Bilting, M A Sasse, C-D Schulz & T Turletti, International Research Seminars through Multimedia Conferencing: Experiences from the MICE project, Proc. of BRIS'94, Hamburg. Available from

http://www-mice.cs.ucl.ac.uk/multimedia/projects/mice/publications.html

[15]      Multimedia Integrated Conferencing for Europe (MICE), EU project Esprit 7602/7606, December 1992 to September 1995.

http://www-mice.cs.ucl.ac.uk/multimedia/projects/mice/mice_home.html


Appendix I

The context of the MECCANO support for the VIROR project

Network infrastructure

The network infrastructure used for the live transmission of lectures is depicted in figure 1. The backbone, called VIROR-LAN, consists of 3Mbit/s ATM PVC connections which form a star topology. Over this private backbone network IP-multicast is used. The backbone ensures that at least the main sites (i.e. the lecture rooms at the four universities) are independent of the Mbone infrastructure’s performance. Choosing this type of setup is a result of the negative experience with distributing regular lectures over the Mbone. In order to allow students at home to participate in lectures, the media streams are reduced to 64kBit/s using a reflector which is part of the MECCANO toolkit. In addition, the media streams are scaled down to 400kBit/s and are fed into the regular Mbone. The gateway and the reflector were alternately positioned at Freiburg and Mannheim for test purposes.

Figure 1
: The VIROR network infrastructure

 



Use of the tools

The tools used for the transmission of lectures depended on the requirements of the specific sessions:

·         session announcement: SDR version 2.9 was used to announce VIROR lectures

·         video: VIC version 2.8ucl-1.0 was used for the video transmission

·         audio: VAT was used for the transmission of audio. We currently consider moving to RAT as the new version of RAT is especially attractive for tele-teaching because of it’s ability to transmit high-quality audio.

·         shared workspaces: WB was used for the lectures. It was mainly used because it is very stable and works for large groups.

·         the digital lecture board was used for the student seminars since it provides a large variety of collaborative services such as telepointers, voting, online quality feedback, and an attention tool. The digital lecture board will be used for the regular lecture, once it has reached the appropriate level of maturity.


for the seminar with invited speakers the AOFwb and the WB were used, depending on the needs of the speaker.

 


Figure 2: Seminar using AOFwb

 


Recording and replay


The regular lectures are recorded, so that students who miss a lecture, or students preparing for the examination, can review them. In VIROR there are two recording methods used for the lectures. The first relies on the Authoring on the Fly (AOF) approach from the University of Freiburg. The AOF approach records video, high quality audio and the shared workspace (including annotations). These recordings are made available on CD ROM. The second type of lecture recording uses a generic Mbone recording service that was developed at the University of Mannheim. With this approach the recorded lecture (audio, video, slides and supplemental material, such as Java teachware applets, can be accessed using web browsers.

 


Figure 3: Web-based access to recorded lectures


Appendix II

The Distributed Media Journaling project

This project is based in the Institute of Informatics at the University of Oslo.

Media journaling is defined as a blanket term to refer to a broad class of applications in which users have the capability to capture multimedia content and related information of real-world activities or sessions as they happen, as well as the ability to process the media so as to create a segmented synchronized multimedia record of events. Thus the notion of media journaling addresses several core areas related to the need to support flexible and interactive real-time capture, processing, manipulation, and playback of complex media content.

Within this rather broad problem area, our research focuses on the development of a framework for on-line (real-time) processing of networked multimedia sessions for the purpose of indexing and annotating the data being analysed. An advantage of a carefully designed framework is that new subtechnologies of relevance for this kind of task can be plugged into the framework as they become available.

On-line processing of media data is important in multimedia communication applications such as video conferencing, distributed/virtual class rooms, and telemedical applications. In the area of monitoring and surveillance systems such as traffic surveillance, on-line automatic processing of large volumes of media data is particularly important. The ability for users of such applications, indiviually or in groups, to interact with the recorded material over the network both during the session and after the session has terminated, will add value to these applications.

On-line distributed media journaling thus implies a requirement for real-time or near real-time content analysis and annotations carried out at suitable processing nodes in the network.  Issues of media journaling are similar to those found in the area often referred to as content-based multimedia indexing and retrieval. We may think of a user specification of journaling requirements as a complex content query specification. However, rather than performing the content analysis off-line on stored data, on-line analysis requires real-time processing of (live) networked sessions.

Since we require distributed media journaling to be on-line and automatic, a knowledge-based approach combined with open distributed processing technology, might be a promising approach to the above challenges. First of all, for feature extraction/object recognition to work well, specific domain knowledge is needed during analysis. One promising approach to integrating domain knowledge (semantics of user domains) into the content-analysis process is to combine (in domain specific ways) low-level quantitative content querying (i.e. query by colour histogram, texture, pitch, etc.) into higher-level qualitative content querying. The knowledge-base contains information about using low-level querying methods in specific application domains.

In order to make distributed media journaling a generic tool for a potentially large number of domains, it is also required that the notion of domain semantics has a meta-level representation such that a new domain can easily be added by providing its characteristics in terms of meta-level concepts. The specification of the semantics of a particular domain we refer to as a profile. Hence we assume that the context of a journaling specification will be a specific profile chosen by the user. The specification of profiles is a task to be undertaken by domain experts.

In order to be able to validate the theoretical results of the project, a prototype implementation has been established at the institute, including a media server and several work stations which are connected to the Mbone. For about a year, the MECCANO tools VIC, RAT and SDR has been used for several testing purposes. Furthermore, plans exists to start using the MECCANO tool Multicast Multimedia Conference Recorder (MMCR) in the near future.