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Robotic Telepresence: Tale of the Tape & A Primer

May 25, 2011 | Howard Lichtman
Robotic_Telepresence_Tale_of_the_Tape.jpgToday we continue publishing excerpts from the inaugural issue of Telepresence Options Magazine.� This third article is entitled "Robotic Telepresence: Tale of the Tape & a Primer" and in the article, Telepresence Options publisher Howard S. Lichtman takes a look at the current field of robotic telepresence platforms hitting the market and provides an overview of their uses and ultimate potential.� We also recommend Sanford Dickert's excellent website: Pilot Presence for additional information on telepresence robotics.� You can subscribe to Telepresence Options Magazine @ http://www.TelepresenceOptions.com/magazine to get a hard copy and get instant access to the digital edition to read the rest of the issue which features articles on: What is Telepresence?, Understanding the Telepresence Marketplace, The ROI of Telepresence and Visual Collaboration in a World of Economic and Geopolitical Uncertainty and Creating Telepresence Environments: A Design Guide

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Telepresence Robotics: A Primer
By Howard S. Lichtman, President, Human Productivity Lab

Telepresence robotics technology uses mobile robots�equipped with two-way visual collaboration�tools. Most robots have a screen that displays the�operator's face. They can be driven around remote�facilities by an operator who interacts with�colleagues from afar. The first batch of commercial�robots to hit the street range in price from�$3,500 to $15,000. On the do it-yourself side,�Wiimote hacker Johnny Chung Lee has open sourced�his plans for a $500 version using a $250�netbook and a $250 iRobot Create kit on You-Tube. The video has over 55,000 views. In addition�to players featured in the line-up, robotics�powerhouses iRobot and Willow Garage have�both demonstrated telepresence robots and are�expected to enter the market.�
The technology combines the collaborative and�humanizing nature of video with the mobility of�robotics. Some applications include:
  • Remote employees interacting with colleagues�at traditional company campuses�and locations
  • Subject matter experts working remotely in�a variety of locations
  • Owners and managers monitoring their�businesses from afar
  • Mobile pill dispensers roving hospitals
  • Remote students studying at a variety of�universities
  • Roving security systems (when not in use by�a remote operator)
Early adopters have reported a number of�unique social dynamics arising from the technology.�Fred Nikgohar, the CEO and founder�of RoboDynamics, has said that two thirds of�the time colleagues will seek out the robot to talk�with a remote employee instead of simply calling him or her. After five days, co-workers begin�referring to the robot by the employee's name.

So, how many robots can we expect to see roaming�the halls in the coming years? Trevor Blackwell, the founder and CEO of AnyBots, believes that one robot for every 100 employees in a company is the right ratio to use the machines effectively.
Like any new technology, a number of legal and security issues need to be worked out. These include the following.
  • Liability: Whose insurance pays when a remote employee's robot runs into someone while picking up a scone at the coffee shop?
  • Security: What if a hacker or competitor hijacked a robot and used the camera's high-resolution zoom to capture passwords, white board material, or an image of the boss in the can.
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The view from the driver's seat - The dashboard of the VGo�
The Future of Robotic Telepresence
More Autonomy: Telepresence robots must be�driven somewhat laboriously around an office
or campus. This requires attention and wastes�time. Expect future robots to automatically pilot�themselves to a specific location while detecting�obstacles and avoiding collisions along the way.�
Better Human Factors: What's the biggest�disappointment with the initial crop of telepresence�robots? The small displays aren't placed at�the right height for talking to a standing human.�Screens will get bigger -- the bare minimum�should be a life-size human head -- for more�humanistic interaction.
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Professor Henrik Sharfe of Aalborg University in Denmark examines a non-mobile�Geminoid - DK robot that has been designed to look exactly like him.
Life-like representations of the owner/operators: Companies at the forefront of this�technology have made great improvements to�the small servo-mechanical motors that can�mimic human gesture and emotion. Soon, robotics�will be able to faithfully replicate a human face. In the long term, the industry will likely�move toward a future like the one depicted in the film Surrogates, in which operators are�jacked into life-like, fully-mobile versions of themselves from afar.
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QB from AnyBots likes to Party



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You can subscribe to Telepresence Options Magazine @ http://www.TelepresenceOptions.com/magazine to get a hard copy and get instant access to the digital edition to read the rest of the issue which features articles on: What is Telepresence?, Understanding the Telepresence Marketplace,� The ROI of Telepresence and Visual Collaboration in a World of Economic and Geopolitical Uncertainty and Creating Telepresence Environments: A Design Guide

The next issue will be published in Fall 2011 and feature: Video Network Infrastructure, Managed Services, Inter-networking, Security, and Exchange.






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