I’ll be the first to admit I was totally enthralled by the rescue of the miners in Chile. Watching the final moments unfold live on CNN’s online video stream made it all the more dramatic. At times the cultural differences between our two countries seemed profound—can you imagine U.S. residents spontaneously breaking into the National Anthem? For the miners, having the video contact throughout their underground ordeal must have been a life-saver, seeing as how it facilitated their contact with friends and family 2000 feet above ground. Did you hear the one rescue worker’s speech while waving around the small (and dated) hand-phone the miners first used to communicate? It was passionate and earnest. This simple thing did so much, he was saying, waving the old, battered phone in the air like it was a magic wand. Maybe to him, it was.

Ironically, the day after the rescue was completed, I was fortunate to participate in a press conference that looked at video communications technology at the futuristic end of the spectrum. Cisco Systems and the town of Holyoke, Massachusetts, announced the official launch of their “Smart + Connected Community” project. Holyoke wants to capitalize on Cisco’s advanced telecommunications platform, which integrates a number of once disparate data sources, including voice, video, and radio, onto a single platform. The press conference was conducted across Cisco’s “telepresence” network, a type of high-end video-conferencing set-up in which participants can see and hear each other with remarkable clarity (as long as they’re looking right into the camera that is).

Holyoke is thinking big, and city officials described projects that would encompass law enforcement, education and health care, all using similar tools. On the health care side, providers will test the telepresence technology to conduct remote consultations with patients. Holyoke officials cited the difficulty in connecting to specialists in their town as one problem that the pilot will address. According to press materials, “the Cisco HealthPresence system would bring the doctor to the patient, eventually allowing the residents of Holyoke access to world-class health care without having to travel to Boston or New York City.” A network that could easily incorporate clinical documentation, images and real-time “face to face” interactions in remote locations has tremendous potential in health care, no doubt.

Of course, there are many unanswered questions at this point, which I will raise directly with Holyoke officials for follow-up articles. Not the least of which is, who pays? However, for now, I can only bask in the glow of the optimism that the press conference participants were unabashedly exuding. “We want to transform Holyoke to the city of the future,” said Mayor Elaine Pluta.

The enthusiasm at the press conference reminded me of the rescue miner waving the old-fashioned phone. The residents of Holyoke were dreaming out loud, saying “See what this technology can do for us!”

 

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