AI News, Is Telepresence the Next Big Thing in Robotics?

Is Telepresence the Next Big Thing in Robotics?

—Marvin Minsky, MIT professor, in his 1980 telepresence essay 'Telepresence is vastly easier to do than AI is, so remotely controlling a robot -- be it to visit a remote location or do surgery -- will mature much sooner than autonomous robots will.'

—Rob Enderle, principal analyst, Enderle Group 'After 100 years of advances in communications, where we discovered how to transmit text, voice, images, why not try to transmit presence?'

—James Cameron, movie director, about piloting a robotic submersible into the shipwreck of Titanic, in a TED talk in Long Beach, Calif., early this year 'Whatever hugs do for people, I'm quite sure telehugs won't do it.'

Why meeting face-to-face still trumps videoconferencing

The first three theories of why videoconferencing didn’t take off sooner were that the technology wasn’t good enough, the system from one vendor wouldn’t work with another, you needed to take classes to learn how to use the systems, and they were wicked expensive.

Given that the telephony industry first brought this technology to market and clearly understood that a phone product needed to talk to all other phone products this mistake still makes me wonder about the intelligence of the initial videoconferencing product managers.

This system, for the money, may be the best solution currently in market from a major brand.   Low cost, low latency, easy to use, and actually pretty attractive, but why will it fail to reach its otherwise glowing potential.

Side meetings, individual breakouts and even social interaction after meetings are not addressed by current videoconferencing solutions.   We are trying telepresence robots (these allow a robot to be a mobile proxy for the remote staff member) to partially address this.

Related: 8 must-have tools if you work from home ] One interesting concept was to put a display and camera into two remote door frames and allow side conversations to occur much like they would if two people were speaking through an actual doorway.

In addition, they should be able to interact as equals even walking away from the virtual table to have side conversations.   This solution will likely require a generation that is used to and accepts working in a virtual world for extended periods.

But until we can either put people at the same level regardless of whether they are remote or local, or make traveling far less safe or acceptable, getting people in general to use these solutions instead of physical travel will not be successful.

Vgo Telepresence Robot

In what may be (but probably isn’t) just a coincidence, a third telepresence robot has made a (pre) commercial appearance in as many weeks.

Rob Enderle, a technology analyst at the Enderle Group who has written about the slow spread of traditional videoconferencing systems, said that “the closer we get to simulating being there, the better an alternative to travel it will become.’’ But Dan Kara, president of the publishing company Robotics Trends in Framingham, said, “I’m not quite sold on mobile telepresence.

How is it that much better than having someone at the remote site carry around a netbook computer with a free copy of Skype on it?’’ The whole minion+laptop+Skype thing is exactly the point we made back when Anybots’ QA was introduced at CES for $30k.

Plugfest 2009: Global Interoperability in Telerobotics and Telemedicine

Furthermore, the communication architecture for Internet based teleoperation is often an Internet protocol network socket with a well defined data interface to transmit control data in a fixed binary packet.

In the same way that Internet standards have connected heterogeneous computing systems, we predict robot communication standards will speed research, development and deployment of interoperable teleoperated robots.

The current work is a new direction, exploiting similarities among teleoperation systems to develop standards, simplify software architecture and improve interoperability.

Our experiment, titled “Plugfest 2009”, tested the ITP on fourteen unique master and slave robots, most of them designed for telesurgery, at nine locations around the world.

Performing the testing in a single 24 hour period accomplished two goals: first, it demonstrated that extensive tweaking is not required to switch connections between systems;

and second, it showed that engineers could integrate the protocol within a consistently short time from project start in early summer to the end of July.

It is important to realize that these are not fourteen systems designed together for compatibility, but rather that a novel communication scheme can tie these disparate systems together with a small integration effort at each site.

However, these are often designed for mobile robots, and are unsuitable for the high packet rates and extreme delay sensitivity particular to telemanipulators and telesurgery systems.

Our work differs in that ITP is not a software application or library, but rather a data interface that is capable of controlling a wide range of teleoperators and can be implemented on any computing platform.