The True Story Behind Reimagining the Dry-Erase Board

SPECIAL OFFER: Pick up where you left off! Find out how you can get two free SMART kapp whiteboards. Offer ends June 30, 2017.

When Neil Gaydon joined SMART, the first thing he set out to do was provide a new direction for the company. That meant restructuring, reorganizing, and changing up the infrastructure. To capture all his ideas, he went looking for a dry-erase board. Only, at the company that invented the SMART Board more than 20 years ago and made them ubiquitous in classrooms around the world, there wasn’t any such thing as a plain, old dry-erase board.

“I was in a hurry,” he says. “I didn’t want to have to go through some training to learn how to use a SMART Board. That kind of technology is absolutely necessary in certain situations. But I needed something simple. Something I could just walk up and use. I turned to our new CTO and said, ‘We’ve got to fix this.’”

A former teacher, retired professional clarinet player, and holder of more than 35 patents, Warren Barkley agreed. Having just left Microsoft where he also helped to make the phrase “Wi-Fi” an household term, Barkley had plenty of experience in putting together products that have revolutionized the way we work.

“Yes, walk up and use needs to be walk up and use. We aren’t there right now. Let’s see what the team can come up with,” Barkley remembers saying at the time.

Neil and Warren put together a list of requirements and features:

  • Make it affordable.
  • It needs to be as simple to use as, well, writing on a dry-erase board. But make it smart so that it’s possible to ink on it two ways.
  • And above all, ditch the dependence on computers, and instead, make it mobile-friendly.

For years, Robert Sirotich had been toying with the idea of a whiteboard with a bit of magic in it. “The best designs, industrial and otherwise, all have what’s called a ‘Wow moment,’” he says. “I’d been thinking about how to use touch technology with a dry-erase board thrown on top of it.” He was after the ideal collaboration tool – replacing the traditional, analog napkin sketch by creating a space where people could write something down on the board and take it back to their offices. Simple, quick, easy-to-use. And digital.

Sirotich, an industrial designer with over 25 years’ experience in diverse industries, pitched the idea to Gaydon and Barkley, complete with glass-topped mockup. What he showed them was certainly untraditional and certainly had the potential to be disruptive – and it was nothing like what SMART offered in its portfolio at the time.

He took a cap off a dry-erase marker and started writing on his mockup. “What if what I’m writing showed up on your mobile phone?” he asked. Utilizing SMART’s touch technology, the four cameras and retroflective material (just like the reflective white and yellow paint on streets and highways) see bright bands. When there is a sudden dark spot, each camera triangulates that dark spot to figure out whether it’s a finger, a pen or an eraser. Then it “draws” those dark spots – the writing – on the SMART kapp board to a mobile device, replicating what’s written on the board.

“It was unbelievable,” Gaydon says.

“When I think about what’s changed in the workplace,” Barkley says, “I look at my mobile phone. No other device has had such a profound impact on how, when and where we do our work. To really get this idea to take off, Neil and I both knew we had to make sure that what we came up with leveraged the power of mobile.”

When the first SMART kapp board was shown in 2014, it was the beginning of a new direction for the business. “Most conference rooms are filled with overly-complicated technology that is not only hard to use but were designed for another era, not a mobile one” Gaydon says. “Seeing the incredible reaction to SMART kapp from almost everyone who saw and used it, we knew we needed to create a suite of products that would bring meeting rooms into the mobile century with solutions you would love using every day.”

When people see it in-use, they’re amazed by how easy it is. Says Sirotich, “It’s a product you don’t know you want until you see it. Then the wheels start turning… and you say, ‘Oh yeah, I need that.’” When people connect their mobile devices and watch the words come alive in real-time, they literally break out in grins – they have the Wow moment we were looking for.

It started out as a quest to create something simple. That was always the goal. And as we continue to innovate, we remain committed to providing products with a little bit of magic in them.

Discover how you can get two free SMART kapp whiteboards. Offer ends June 30, 2017.

Kristel Gibson
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About Kristel Gibson

Kristel Gibson is the social media content manager. She’s been studying and responding to the social trends of the “intertubes” for the last eight years. She lives in Seattle with her family.

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2 thoughts on “The True Story Behind Reimagining the Dry-Erase Board

  1. I think any advancement in technology can be a great thing. SMART boards always seemed like they were out of a movie when we had them in high school and now they are extremely common. Very fun to see what the future hold. Thanks for your input.

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