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.