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How Telepresence Tech May Change The Small Business Of 2063
[From BBC News, where the story includes additional images]
By Alastair Reynolds,
Our world is changing faster than ever and, in recent years, a number of transformative technologies have moved from science fiction and the research and development R&D laboratory into the realm of practical application.
These new technologies, combined with demographic shifts and globalisation, will have a profound impact on the future of SMEs.
Who would have thought that advanced machinery and electronics such as GPS navigation tools, which only a decade ago would have seemed completely science fictional, would now be a part of our everyday lives?
Even the tablet computer, prophetically shown in Kubrick's 1968 film 2001 A Space Odyssey, was a part of the fictional world.
But now we are more than familiar with the object, seeing it used for both business and entertainment purposes.
It is always hard to predict the impact of technological developments, but we are already witnessing how the way we work could be transformed in the near future.
Many of the tasks we typically perform in the office today can also be done at home; we share and discuss documents seamlessly and have access to videoconferencing.
But beyond this is the exciting possibility of telepresence robotics.
These relatively simple systems - using cameras, microphones, speakers and screens - are already in use.
Surgeons use telepresence robots to place themselves "in" trauma wards thousands of miles away.
Some who have used telerobotics have even reported a strong sense of feeling "embodied" in the remote location, as if they were really there.
There will always be occasions when we would rather be somewhere in person, but telepresence robots could have truly world-changing consequences; a combination of 3D vision, tactile and proprioceptive feedback, and full-body telerobotic control could eliminate the need for physical travel altogether.
The virtual-physical high street
The traditional High Street's evolution has recently been accelerated with the collapse of many well-loved retail institutions around the world.
Some 37% of UK SMEs - small and medium enterprises - believe that in 50 years, traditional business centres will disappear and advanced telepresence could replicate many of the benefits of walking into a traditional shop.
Indeed, robotics and augmented reality (AR) may open the possibility for hybrid High Streets, which exist in both physical and digital spaces simultaneously.
A small or medium-sized company (SME) operating without a fixed location could rent empty property on a street that it then occupies with virtual products and services.
Imagine a hundred customers in an empty shop at one time, all experiencing different AR consumer environments.
The temptation might be to assume that the High Street as we know it will be replaced by an entirely electronic presence, but we must appreciate that people generally like interacting with one another.
A virtual-physical hybrid High Street is therefore a distinct possibility.
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