On Monday, USC Annenberg Professor and Lead Researcher at Annenberg Innovation Lab François Bar casually made jokes and small talk with his colleagues Francis Pisani, Ciaran Lyons, Ben Hollin from Cisco, and a handful of bright-minded students. They laughed, then began their discussion. The kicker? Pisani and Lyons, Bar, and Hollin, were sitting in three different rooms in three different cities, thousands of miles apart.

The collaboration between these researchers and students in Los Angeles, Singapore, Songdo, South Korea, and Hyderabad, Pakistan, is part of an innovative new class at USC exploring a range of communication, economic, and technological implications utilizing cutting-edge video conferencing technology known as telepresence.

The systems, designed by Cisco, consist of identical rooms with a semi circle desk, facing three telepresence screens, at eye level. When the call begins, the screens come on, and participants, regardless of location, appear to be simply sitting across the table from one another. The effect is astounding. The lag is non-existent. The conversation is in real-time.

At USC, students research the technological and business trends of these "Smart Cities," and what it would be like to innovate in each of them, drawing lessons for the future of Los Angeles.



*Update (3/6/14): It was originally stated that Pisani and Lyons had been part of the discussion in two separate countries, when in fact the two were in the same room, in Singapore; Ben Hollin from Cisco (previously omitted), was in San Jose.