The rise of telepresence robots for business and beyond

Today many people use basic teleconference technology through platforms such as Skype and FaceTime, but advancements in robotics are pushing telepresence to the next level.

By incorporating HD and 3D cameras into remote controlled robots, people are able to navigate faraway locations from the comfort of their home computers.  The robots are equipped with screens for face-to-face communication and wheels for mobility.

You can even drive the robot into a charging station and re-power it remotely.

Telepresence robots have demonstrated their usefulness in the office, allowing people to work from home.

“I can actually just telepresence myself and navigate around the office, speaking to all the employees,” says David Merel, the CEO of a small business that uses robots from the telepresence company Double Robotics.

The robots are proving helpful to businesses outside the office in for conferences and trade shows, as well: “Double allows us to actually bring out some of our staff through telepresence to engage with people at the booth, also [handling] overflow.”


Telepresence recently helped Bitcoin entrepreneur Charlie Shrem attend a Bitcoin conference in Chicago. The robot allowed him to appear at the event despite being under house arrest in New York for money laundering charges.

While impressive, these applications are just the tip of the iceberg for telepresence technology and its implications.

A Chicago woman with paraplegia took part in the Chicago Disabled Pride Parade this past weekend by navigating a robot from Orbis Robotics from her home computer. She previously used the robot to work at an American Legion conference as a spokesperson for Orbis.

Such robots could give home-bound people the opportunity to visit other places and perhaps even hold jobs in fields like sales, where face-to-face interactions could be conducted through screens.

The technology could open up career paths for many people who have never considered working outside their homes as a viable option and give them financial independence.

How can telepresence continue to develop? If the film Surrogates holds any shreds of accuracy, we will turn telepresence robots into humanoids that perform all of our daily tasks and interactions for us and live out our entire lives remotely, with Bruce Willis as our only saviour.

However, this grim view of the future seems unlikely, especially when you look at the distinctly non-human form of the current models.

As we hone telepresence technology, hopefully it continues to allow people to experience the world in new ways rather than limit them to life through a screen.

Featured image: screenshot from Surrogates (2009). Body image and video courtesy of Double Robotics.

Nanny, personal assistant, storyteller, pet: The many roles of JIBO the family robot

A new robot called JIBO is being touted as the first of its kind that is tailored to families.

Though JIBO is unimposing at only 11in tall and 5lbs light, the little robot has the potential to change family dynamics and everyday life.

JIBO is able to recognise faces and talk to you, but he is more than just a novelty conversational robot. He can send and record voice messages, remind you of appointments, take photos and tell stories with movement and animation.

His creators even describe him as “the closest thing to a real-life teleportation device” because of his immersive video-calling capabilities that make it feel as if you are in the same room as the person you are calling.

Though he communicates with surprisingly natural language inflections and reactions, he was not created with a humanoid appearance. Instead, he resembles some sort of Pixar character, more like a cute family pet than a mini human.

This aesthetic decision is one of the elements that sets JIBO apart from Pepper, the emotion-reading humanoid robot that Japanese company SoftBank launched earlier this year.

While Pepper is being marketed as a companion that can understand and respond to your feelings, JIBO seems to fulfil a more comprehensive role—is he a home communications system, a personal assistant, a nanny, a pet?

Surely, JIBO’s developers want you to see him as all of these things. He is programmed with AI algorithms, helping him learn and adjust to your preferences so that he eases into your day-to-day life and becomes more than a trendy new gadget.

“What if technology actually treated you like a human being?” asked social robotics professor and JIBO founder Cynthia Breazeal. “What if technology helped you to feel closer to the ones you love? What if technology helped you like a partner rather than simply being a tool? That’s what JIBO’s about.”


To further expand the mission of humanising technology, JIBO is being launched as an open platform so that users and developers can create applications themselves. In this way, JIBO will be able to communicate and complete tasks in ways that suit your own individual needs.

Potential customers seem to agree that JIBO could prove an asset to households. The robot’s Indiegogo campaign was fully funded in less than 24 hours, demonstrating the excitement surrounding the technology.

How could JIBO transform households? As a playmate and companion, he could combat loneliness. As a messaging system, he could improve family communications. As a personal assistant, he could increase efficiency. At the very least, as a cutting-edge robotic device displayed in your home, he could make you and your family feel like savvy masters of the latest technology.

Images and video courtesy of JIBO’s Indiegogo campaign.