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The New Kubi Offers Greater Presence For Tablet Videoconferencing
First of all, Telepresence purists take umbrage at the application of the T word to a technology that doesn't provide the illusion of an in-person meeting. More importantly, robotics companies have struggled with confusion and misplaced expectations from the marketplace, as well as serious technology hurdles (like remotely controlling a robot on an elevator via Wi-Fi).
Much of the telepresence struggle has been related to remotely driving the robot. It is fun at first, but it can start to feel like work after navigating the first few tight hallways. It is worth the effort when you need a truly mobile VC platform (for example if you want to tour a factory floor, roam a lab, etc.), but for the standard meeting it can be an annoyance. The Kubi is very simple. It is a tablet/phone stand that provides remote pan/tilt functionality. In other words, it allows you to look around when you are in a video call with a tablet. Why build an entire mobile robot just to carry a tablet from room to room, when the most important part of a tablet VC session is the actual meeting experience?
The ability for the remote participant to turn the robot's head, and look around naturally during a meeting, is often seen as the strongest feature of a telepresence robot. There is a reason that standard (expensive) videoconferencing room systems generally offer PTZ cameras with far end control. As Kubi Co-Founder and robot designer Ilya Polyakov explained to us, he learned that 90% of the cost of Telepresence Robots was in making it mobile, and 90% of the value was in the ability to control the view. The Kubi essentially focuses on providing this one key ability, in an affordable and easy to use form factor.
Revolve Robotics is using indiegogo for fundraising. Early supporters can get a Kubi for $199. The company hopes to be able to significantly reduce costs when it is put into full production to make it even more accessible to the masses. The solution is extremely easy to use, even in its current pre-final state. The image below shows a meeting between myself and Ilya, with me on the Kubi. Controlling the Kubi was intuitive. Basically, you click (or point) where you want the camera to move. Revolve is working on an even slicker control app for the final release.
The potential uses for this technology are real and obvious (see the shots below for a few examples). While telepresence snobs may roll their eyes at tablet based VC, the fact is that not every location has a high end HD video system installed. I am a regular tablet VC user and I strongly believe that it is an easy and massive upgrade from a phone call for a typical meeting (circumstances permitting). Adding the ability to control my view increases my comfort level and my feeling of presence. It can feel a tad awkward when someone is talking off-camera and you can't simply turn to look at them. The Kubi is a simple, elegant answer to this problem and I hope to see them popping up in small meeting rooms in the near future.
About the Author
David Maldow, Esq. is a visual collaboration technologist and analyst with the Human Productivity Lab and an associate editor at Telepresence Options. David has extensive expertise in testing, evaluating, and explaining telepresence and other visual collaboration / rich media solutions. David is focused on providing third-party independent analysis and opinion of these technologies and helping end users better secure their telepresence, videoconferencing, and visual collaboration environments. You can follow David on Twitter and Google+.
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