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How to Crash CES With A VGo Telepresence Robot

January 19, 2012 | David S. Maldow, Esq.
david_vgo_telepresence_robot.jpgThe Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas is always a blast. Unfortunately, other projects kept me from attending this year but I still wanted to get a feel for the show other than simply following David Danto's booth-by-booth highlights via Twitter. Since I always like to drink the telepresence champagne I decided to spend a little time "driving the floor" from afar and getting an update on telepresence robotics using a VGo telepresence robot.

VGo vice president Ned Semonite provided me with a link to download the soft client, as well as a copy of VGo's driving tips. It only took a minute or so to install the client and log in, at which point I immediately found myself at CES. I did a quick 360 degree spin to orient myself, see the booths and people in my area, and then I started driving around. I was hoping to find the exit and head towards the blackjack tables, but before I could get into too much trouble Ned introduced himself and escorted me around the floor. Check out this short video clip showing my perspective of CES from the VGo robot as well as a quick interview with Ned and Jeff Germansky from Verizon. This video may be the first public demonstration of a 4G enabled VGo from the robot's point of view.

Please note, I first noticed the "Maximum Video Bitrate" option in the VGo menu settings (see below) after completing the demonstration drive. I believe it was set on 384 kbps by default. This may have compromised the video quality in the clip above. A higher video bitrate generally means a higher quality video image, VGo may want to consider making the higher bandwidth option the default choice. I would expect that many users will not dig into the settings menus, but have the extra bandwidth available and would appreciate higher quality video. Although, to be fair, the video quality I saw met my expectations for this application.

vgo_telepresence_robot_settings.jpgThe hardest part about controlling an VGo is overcoming your own fear. You aren't going to break it or accidentally smash through a wall with it, this isn't a monster robot. Relax and have fun and you will be comfortably driving around in minutes. The controls are very intuitive, no real training is required. When I moved my mouse, a heads up display would appear. Dragging the mouse forward moves the robot forward. If you drag it further forward, the robot moves faster. Driving any telepresence robot requires a small learning curve because of the latency between the time when you try to move the robot, and when you see movement on your screen. This isn't a VGo limitation, it is just a simple fact that it takes time for the control signal to travel through the internet to the robot, and then a similar amount of time for the video image from the robot to travel back to the controller. However, the mind soon compensates for this latency and driving the robot is fun and easy.

vgo_telepresence_robot_driving_gui.jpgAs we cruised the show, we were lucky enough to bump into Jess Germansky (Associate Director - Verizon's 4G LTE Innovation Center) who spoke to us about VGo's integration with Verizon's 4G network. As Ned explains in the video above, wireless can be spotty even when it is available. Users of 4G enabled VGo robots will be able to enjoy more flexible and reliable telepresence. During my demo of the 4G enabled robot at CES I noticed no network related hiccups or issues, and I was operating the robot for close to an hour from across the country.

vgo_telepresence_robot_school_setting.jpgWhile we can all appreciate stories about children who otherwise wouldn't be able to attend school and socialize with their friends, the VGo isn't limited to these specialized cases. Bosses are using them to check in on the troops, and the troops are using them to participate in meetings they otherwise couldn't attend. I believe that most people still see robotic telepresence as a future technology. As they realize that it exists and is available today, they will come up with uses that we haven't even imagined.

Why use VGo rather than a standard videoconference solution? VGo users say that attending a meeting via traditional videoconferencing is great, but the mobility offered by VGo adds another element. Work doesn't just happen during meetings. For example, many times the most interesting conversations are out in the hall during a break. If you are on a VGo, you can join this side conversation, but if you are on a monitor on a wall, you will miss out. I could have visited CES on a videoconferencing system installed in an exhibitor's booth. That would have allowed me to have a nice experience with people in front of the fixed camera at that booth, whereas VGo let me truly walk the floor at CES. Just please don't tell the guys running CES that I never paid for a ticket.

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