The term “X-Lab” might conjure immediate visions of a science-fiction film.
Designated as a “wet lab,” the 40×20 meter space situated in the Charles Perkins Centre seats up to 240 students, with the capacity to house eight simultaneous classes across scientific and medical studies. The facility provides students with a state-of-the-art research laboratory for teaching pharmacology, physiology, immunology, pharmacy, microbiology, veterinary science, and pathology.
Typically, an educational venue of this size serves a common audience, with a singular AV system to support the entire space. With up to eight classes in the lab, using a single speech reinforcement system to flood the venue was not an option.
This left headsets as the only viable, traditional choice to deliver the right audio to the right students – a choice that created many safety concerns.
Paul Menon and his team at the University of Sydney first looked to the London Metropolitan University for inspiration.
In 2006, the London Metropolitan University built its groundbreaking “Super Lab,” a 280-workstation laboratory that digitally recorded and wirelessly streamed live lectures to radio headsets. While cutting-edge for the time, it did not address the goals of the X-Lab.
“The biggest challenge to the X-Lab’s design was the academic and laboratory requirements,” says Menon, the technical manager of audio visual services, information and communication technology at the University of Sydney. “There was great concern that students wearing headsets in a wet laboratory would increase the risk of contamination, as well as accidents through deprived sensory awareness. The decision was made to dispense with headsets and explore a networked audio system.”
Menon partnered with Sydney-based systems integration firm Fredon Technology to solve the problem.
The goal was two-fold: Efficiently distributing targeted lecture audio to students over a standard network infrastructure; and intelligible speech reproduction from overhead speakers without bleeding into neighboring classes.
“In the past, the university often used CobraNet networking in larger spaces on campus, but it’s a Layer 2 protocol with networking limitations,” says Nick Orsatti, the general manager of Fredon Technologies. “That was not going to work in the X-Lab for a number of reasons, including channel count, latency and future-proofing. We very quickly decided that a Dante network from Audinate was the best option, especially with the wide variety of choices of Dante-enabled products.”
“We were seeking an extensible system without the obligatory forklift at each upgrade,” adds Menon. “We really needed something that would blur the AV-IT boundary. The X-Lab system hasn’t just blurred the AV-IT boundary – it’s hard to discern the difference in this case.”
The University of Sydney decided to immediately expand the 16-channel specification to a 64-channel backbone. A Symetrix Radius AEC was specified for its digital signal processing and higher channel count.
It also includes local echo cancellation for incoming Dante channels – eliminating the cost and complexity of mixing in standalone echo cancellation systems.
The Symetrix architecture includes a Radius at eight instructional locations, each feeding to a Radius EDGE that routes Dante audio to a central amplifier rack. From there, the audio is distributed to 45 loudspeaker zones.