Featured on Feb. 17 in live conversation

Lanny Smoot's more than 100 patents include video conferencing, phone service

We walk into rooms now and see big screen video conferencing systems and we see people life-sized and we take for granted, as we’re doing right now, that the audio’s gonna work. Back then, there was no industry of video conferencing. Most people were still on phones. There were some very specialized video conferencing systems. They didn’t work well. They were on small screens. The audio was also very glitchy. I came up with a design that produced very large video images—life-sized images. We particularly built our systems into walls and set up rooms that were similar on both ends of a call. So, it was like looking through an open window to see the participants on the other side of the, of the room.

We also concentrated on the audio. We had some of the best multichannel audio systems. So, I could tell where a person was sitting on the other side of the extended room. We also made it so that we could show graphics on the system by just putting a piece of paper or whatever you wanted to show on the table. The image was looked at not from the top of the camera, but through the surface of the table, from the bottom and through the paper. That system became a model for a lot of the video conferencing systems that were used inside the telephone network, and we licensed the technology to others in the industry so that they could also use it. So, it was fun. It was impactive. And, um, it changed, I think, the world of video conferencing.

We all watch streaming, you know, TV now. We think nothing of being able to stop an image from playing, rewind, have a large selection catalog of movies and things that we can see.

That didn’t exist, and I created—along with partners—the so-called store and forward video-on-demand system, which meant we sent the images to homes with the ability to rewind them, fast-forward them; it was the first video-on-demand system demonstrated in the Bell system. So, I was really proud of that.