Modern democracy

InformationsTechnik has completed the installation of a new conference and voting system in the Folketinget, or parliament. This 200 seat chamber boasts century old furniture, which had to be preserved in the new installation reports Chris Fitzsimmons.

Denmark’s lower house of parliament, the Folketinget, resides in Copenhagen’s historic Christiansborg Palace. Whilst the present building dates from 1918, the first building on the site, a castle, was built in 1165 and its remains still exist in the basement of the current building.
The intervening period has seen various constructions pulled down, burnt down and restored, used as castles, a royal palace and finally the seat of government.
When dealing with such a historic site InformationsTechnik has had to be extremely careful in maintaining the historic interior furnishings, whilst including the technology needed to meet the parliament’s requirements.
This goes as far as mounting all the control, routing and processing equipment out of sight in a cubby hole underneath the chairman’s podium. Additionally the surrounds for the delegate PCs were even painted in a bespoke colour.
The latest project to be undertaken includes a significant upgrade to the discussion and information display systems in the house. Previously the parliament had operated a separate discussion and voting solution. This has now been replaced with an installation of DIS’s 6000 series conference and voting package.
InformationsTechnik general manager Thomas Fredrikson explained:
“The old system had DIS microphones and a voting system from a different company. The voting system was no longer maintained by that supplier. The parliament therefore requested that we replaced the voting, and microphone control solutions with a single system.”
The new system is unique in terms of the level of integration as well as its use of a client-server/terminal server platform. All 200 seats are connected via a LAN network to terminal servers with DIS SW 6000 software installed on them.
Each seat is furnished with a small Chip PC, which is effectively a thin client. They are only running Microsoft’s remote desktop software and all 200 are running from the same terminal server.
“From the 8” touch screen, each delegate has full control of his system. The microphone is controlled from here, the thin client gives them a choice of channels if there’s any translation going on. They can have the agendas, speaker ID and information and there’s the chip and pin card for logging in,” said Fredrikson.
“The furniture itself dates from 1918, which made the integration process very complicated. The consoles had to be exactly the right colour, and fit into the limited space.”
The DIS software is tightly integrated with the Folketinget’s own database systems. At the start of a parliamentary term the database is populated with the schedule of meetings, information about all delegates and the agendas for every session, right down to who is expected to speak at each one.
When it comes to setting up a day’s sessions, the operator merely imports the relevant information into the DIS system.
Once this has been done, all the chairman needs to do is start and end sessions via the touch screen control panel. No other user intervention is required.
Conversely after a meeting information is fed back from the voting system into the parliamentary database. This includes attendance data, vote outcomes and who voted in which way.
There are also several live services provided by the system. Information about the current speaker is not only sent to delegate PCs but can also be exported to broadcasters in the form of metadata, allowing automatic captioning of TV broadcasts. SMS broadcasts can also be made to the mobile phones of delegates informing them of the start of a voting session so that they can return to the chamber.
Another function is the live streaming of debates to the parliament’s website using DIS’s SW7010 application. This also serves to archive them for later viewing.
Accompanying the new debating system is additional AV equipment. Most notable is the pair of Panasonic 103” plasma displays wall mounted either side of  the speaker’s position.
During normal proceedings, these are used to display the results of voting, the agenda and a speakers list. However for special events a variety of other content can be shown including external or internal TV feeds, DVD or camera sources.
They plasma option was chosen over other display options, such as projection for a couple of reasons. The high resolution of the displays supplies sufficient pixel density to show the information required to the large room. Even from the furthest seats it’s perfectly possible to read information about how a vote has turned out, or who is speaking.
A projection solution wouldn’t have been of sufficient brightness, due to the high levels of ambient light in the room, and would also have required much more invasion of the architecture – the projector would have needed to have been mounted under the facing balcony, and a pair of screens mounted behind the chairman’s position. This would also have necessitated a very long throw length.
The DCS 6000 system is fully integrated with an AMX camera control system, and a Christie Vista Spider URS. This highly flexible video processor is used to provide the feed for the Parliament’s TV channel and for other broadcasters, as well as overlaying subtitle information on the video.
Two sets of cameras are installed in the debating chamber. The first consists of remote controlled broadcast cameras mounted discretely behind wooden panels around the room.
The second set is of PTZ cameras pre-assigned to focus on delegates when their microphones are activated.
Audio from the system is delivered to the DIS multichannel recorder (MURF), which is connected to the Parliament’s existing internal PA system and internal TV channel as well.
Fredrikson noted: “This is a pretty unique project made possible largely by the relationship between DIS and InformationsTechnik. In order to accommodate the vast requirements of parliamentary operations, new functionality and new modules to the DIS software package were developed for this project. Especially regarding the easy and fully user friendly integration with the user’s existing parliament document handling system. In other words, all meeting data; meeting name, data, agenda, delegate information etc is imported into to the DIS conference system for each meeting, used, amended and then exported back to the parliamentary system for synchronisation and updating.”
The parliament officially re-opened October 5, 2010 and InformationsTechnik says that the client is extremely happy with the new solution.