In a recent post, the Wall Street Journal wrote about a mother who used a robot to go to a costumed wedding party because at age 82, and suffering from various ailments, she wasn’t able to attend in person. That robot, called QB, was courtesy of a company called Anybots, Inc, of Mountain View, Calif., and it marked a subtle shift in the telepresence world-real people are now using them for real world applications. Some are on loan, but more and more of them are being leased. The QB, for example, cost the woman $3,000 for an eight-hour rental. Another example, is the VGo robot, as described in a recent post by Digital Trends-it’s being used by people to work remotely, and in some cases, by students with severe allergies to attend classes while remaining safely at home. It can be seen in action via a video posted to YouTube by the company that makes it.
Telepresence devices, or robots, for those not keeping up with the latest in robotics, are robots that “live” in one location, but act as a stand-in, or avatar for someone else at a remote location. They are typically equipped with video screens, microphones, speakers, and wheels with a motor to push them. The person at home “drives” them to wherever they wish in the remote location and interacts with people in the other location using the facilities of the robot. Those at the site can see the driver on the video screen and can talk to them as if they were actually there. The whole idea is to allow a person in one place to jump to another place, virtually, for specific purposes.
Up until recently, virtually all telepresence devices were run in labs or at corporate test sites. Now however, telepresence robots are being used by normal people to accomplish normal goals. DT reports on a fourth grader with severe allergies that prevented him from attending school. His parents arranged for him to attend instead via the telepresence robot VGo. They report that the boy had only positive things to say about the robot and his school experience, which included class lectures and discussions, lunch, recess and chatting with fellow students in the hall between classes. For their part, most of the students at the school said they’d grown so accustomed to the VGo that they forgot the allergy sufferer wasn’t actually there.
The introduction of telepresence robots into mainstream society is big news. It means that after years of being told to get ready for robots to live among us, it’s finally starting to happen, even if they are in a form we might not have been expecting.