You can press a button on your phone to call a car, order booze delivery, or get your home cleaned, but if you want to ask a question after a panel at a conference, you’ll need to physically raise your hand and wait for a mic. It’s a pretty efficient technology, the hand-raise, but it has its drawbacks— microphone-passing logistics, inefficient lines, and favoritism toward the front half of the audience.
AT&T is working on an alternative system that allows conference attendees to instead virtually raise their hands by pressing a button in an app, and using their smartphones as their own personal microphones.
To use the technology, a moderator logs into a website in order to see the queue of people who want to ask questions. He or she can control whose "microphone" is connected to the speakers in the room and when to cut them off. It only works if everyone has access to the Internet.
"When we were first thinking of this, we were like, this is so obvious that someone must have done it," says David Daudelin, one part of a team that submitted the idea to AT&T’s internal "innovation pipeline," which allows anyone in the company to propose new product ideas.
It’s no longer true that nobody has done it. A recently released app called Crowd Mics has a similar concept, for instance—but AT&T didn't find another patent on it at the time of Daudelin's proposal. So it filed one (it is still being reviewed).
The company hasn’t decided exactly what the product will look like. It could be purchased as a part of a conference app or even licensed to someone else. But if conference Q&As get Uberized, chances are AT&T will own a piece of whatever that product looks like.