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Telepresence Robot Rundown

samzenpus posted about a year and a half ago | from the compare-and-contrast dept.

Robotics 51

DeviceGuru writes "A handful of innovative high-tech startups have recently emerged to create a new market: remote telepresence robots. With one of these robotic Avatars, you can wander around in the remote environment, chatting with coworkers and managers, attending meetings, and solving problems encountered through those interactions. InformationWeek's Telepresence Robot Smackdown compares five such bots — the MantaroBot TeleMe, VGo Communications VGo, Anybots QB, Suitable Technologies Beam, and Revolve Robotics Kubi — and includes short videos demonstrating each. As the article concludes, 'bear in mind that what we're witnessing here is the emergence of a new industry; and if Moore's Law applies here as it does to so many IT spheres, it won't be long before these gadgets are inexpensive, commonplace, and far more flexible and intelligent."

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Innovative? New? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42574409)

Ever read about the Heathkit HERO and the general love for robots in the 1980s? This is about as new as a mullet.

Re:Innovative? New? (2)

gilgongo (57446) | about a year and a half ago | (#42574511)

Yeah, but it's such a cool idea!! Like video conferencing - sooo groovy! Never mind that it's been marketed and failed over and over an over again (most recently by Apple with Facetime, but also by just about every single large tech company in the past 40 years). VCs will never tire of throwing bazillions at it.

Re:Innovative? New? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42574939)

I know! Just like tablet computers...that'll never take off!

http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Newton_(platform)

Re:Innovative? New? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42575939)

I know! Comparing pure information processing to the physical world makes total sense! Why, if you look at computer memory from the 1960s to today, clearly a 747 should fly at the speed of light today!

Video Conferencing works great (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42575405)

video conferencing (even lame webcam types) works great. It won't replace a face to face meeting, but it's a heck of a lot better than everyone on a conference call. And if you are coordinating with people who are a day's travel away, burning 2 days of travel for a 1 hour meeting means that even if the video conference is 1/10th as efficient as a live meeting, you're still ahead of the game. (I'm sorry, I don't count the ability to kind of sort of work on a plane, even in business class, as being a substitute for being in your office with your resources close at hand)

And if you have a high end telepresence setup like the one from Cisco with the fancy sound and video system, it's pretty amazingly close to being there in person. The big thing you miss is the ability to have side conversations, but text messaging/im/fast email sort of replaces that (while, unfortunately, leaving a discoverable documentation trail, something that a whispered aside does not).

One of the most valuable aspects of video conferencing is that it fixes the problem with straight teleconferences where you have a big group in one place and singletons in others. In the latter, there's no good way for the singleton to get the attention of the big group. But with videoconferencing, your smiling or grimacing face is down in the corner of their screen, and when you wave, they remember you are there.

Re:Innovative? New? (1)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | about a year and a half ago | (#42574609)

Ever read about the Heathkit HERO and the general love for robots in the 1980s? This is about as new as a mullet.

Comparing modern robots to a HERO makes as much sense as comparing an Altair 8800 to a Galaxy S3. Sure, in principle they have similarities, but processing power, networking, imaging, etc., have all improved a thousand-fold or more. Once telepresence is "good enough", it will revolutionize the workplace. No only will telecommuting become much more common, but it will also make it easier to offshore jobs that require a local presence. This will accelerate the global leveling of prosperity levels. There will also be big military applications. Why send live soldiers on a dangerous patrol, when avatars can handle the task?

Re:Innovative? New? (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42574937)

Unfortunately your comparison doesn't hold. The Altair was a large box that could process a little information for a lot of money. The S3 is smaller, cheaper and can process more information. Everything has changed.

However, a robot still has to deal with the same physical world, the same uneven floors, dirty carpets, pets, limited battery life and the general real world physicality. It doesn't matter if you have a better processor since the actual "rubber hits the road" part of the robot hasn't changed, and won't, ever.

Do you want a hugely expensive robot to wash your dishes like a robotic human doll because you saw it in sci-fi, or do you want a perfectly adapted dishwasher for 200$ to do it? It doesn't matter if the robot doll has a 16 core CPU running a monstrous pile of software that wasn't possible 20 years ago, because it makes no fundamental sense to have a robot do that.

We'll see in a year, shall we? I remember the Machina Sapiens robot toys being sold a few years ago for Christmas, and they were more flexible and powerful than the robot toys we had 20 years ago, and yet, the Machina Sapiens all ended up in the trash within months as they broke down and you can't find these toys anymore.

In general, it fascinates me on Slashdot the same people who go on and on about how unreliable mechanical hard drives are, yet they lose their minds over much larger and more unreliable contraptions. I guess this also explains 3D printing. Which also die out in a few more years, just like VR in the '90s.

Re:Innovative? New? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42575111)

Sorry, that's the Robo Sapiens... Machina Sapiens is a company that makes a French language correction software ....

Re:Innovative? New? (1)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | about a year and a half ago | (#42575537)

Do you want a hugely expensive robot to wash your dishes like a robotic human doll because you saw it in sci-fi, or do you want a perfectly adapted dishwasher for 200$ to do it?

I want the humanoid robot. Because, in addition to washing dishes, it can clear the table, and put the dishes away after they are cleaned and dried. It can also cook dinner, wash and fold the laundry, mow the lawn, vacuum the carpets, etc.

Re:Innovative? New? (1)

mt1955 (698912) | about a year and a half ago | (#42575711)

I have disagree re: 3D printing to die out in a few more years-- we were doing it in the 90's with 10' tall machines making design prototypes. It was prohibitively expensive for anything else. Now it's much cheaper and much more widespread. It reminds me of the computer's transition from mainframe to PC's. I really think it's the future of manufacturing.

Re:Innovative? New? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42575981)

It will die out for the personal use. I think the term "3D printing" is misused as a kind of umbrella term so that each time some new legitimate industrial process comes along, that takes qualified personnel to run and usually a 600V three phase service, someone will always think that it means that the 3D printer they have at home will print out F-15 fighter jets in just a few more weeks.

It's not the future of manufacturing. It's the present of industrial design. The manufacturing still happens the same way as before, the same molding and fabrication processes, we just have a new way to make the molds and the prototypes.

We won't see a Star Trek replicator, sorry.

Re:Innovative? New? (1)

houstonbofh (602064) | about a year and a half ago | (#42574631)

Ever read about the Heathkit HERO and the general love for robots in the 1980s? This is about as new as a mullet.

Everything cycles... Fashion more than most, but IT does as well. Look at SAS, ASP, Cloud for a good example. However, I do dread the day when big hair and mullets come back.

Re:Innovative? New? (1)

c0lo (1497653) | about a year and a half ago | (#42575429)

Ever read about the Heathkit HERO and the general love for robots in the 1980s? This is about as new as a mullet.

Everything cycles... Fashion more than most, but IT does as well. Look at SAS, ASP, Cloud for a good example. However, I do dread the day when big hair and mullets come back.

Dude... before mullets ('80), there should be some crazy '70-ies... I wouldn't mind them.

Re:Innovative? New? (2)

Sarten-X (1102295) | about a year and a half ago | (#42576705)

IT cycles well because IT really just exists to work with humans, and human needs don't change much. All that ever changes is the current best way to accomplish some particular goal.

  • Need to put computing power in your workers' hands, without management hassles? Distribute identical terminals... to run the VDI client.
  • Need to store tons of data? Store your data in segments spread across a ton of media, and shuffle them around as needed to keep them organized and safe... which is trivial with a rack-aware filesystem on a large SAN.
  • Need to process tons of data? Divide the job into many small tasks, then book time on a nearby supercomputer... which is built from Hadoop MapReduce nodes for only a five-figure price tag.
  • Need a timeclock to track your workers? Punchcards are cheap, disposable, pretty reliable, and the plastic-coated ones are waterproof... but RFID tags are faster.

Each technology that's returning had some major issue that prevented its wide deployment (usually speed, size, or bandwidth), and other alternatives took the spotlight. Now that those problems have been solved (or reduced), the alternatives' shortcomings are highlighted, and those old solutions are being revisited.

Re:Innovative? New? (1)

2phar (137027) | about a year and a half ago | (#42574663)

Let's not forget Q's SNOOPER [jamesbondwiki.com] from a few decades ago.

More outsourcing! (2)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | about a year and a half ago | (#42574453)

This sounds great. Now I can hire Indians to work in my office in California.

Big bang theory? (2)

Bizzeh (851225) | about a year and a half ago | (#42574465)

Didnt sheldon already come up with this in the big bang theory? surely he has the patent on these devices...

Re:Big bang theory? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42574523)

Am I the only one who doesn't like the way Big Bang Theory portrays geeks at all?

Re:Big bang theory? (0)

GameboyRMH (1153867) | about a year and a half ago | (#42574697)

It's not just you.

And telepresence robots were around before the show launched.

Re:Big bang theory? (1)

rmdingler (1955220) | about a year and a half ago | (#42575007)

Fine. No Penny for you.

Re:Big bang theory? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42576991)

The Big Bang theory is a show about geeks made by non-geeks.

It sucks.

Moore's law (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42574581)

Moore's law applies to transistors, not to any random tech industry.

Re:Moore's law (1)

MLBs (2637825) | about a year and a half ago | (#42576929)

Actually, according to Ray Kurzweil [ted.com] , it does.

Telebot Fail (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42574737)

I've seen the VGo in television commercials (For HP?) recently. I thought; meh that's useless crap. Now I see the VGo is $6,000.

Utterly useless crap for $6,000? LOL! Fail.

webcam-on-wheels? what more do they do? (2)

fantomas (94850) | about a year and a half ago | (#42574747)

Why not just have skype/similar video conferencing software and a few web cams in a different offices?

What do I get by having a webcam-on-wheels?

Perhaps the answer is that the distance person controls where they move to... so an issue of power? But I can see low-powered workers subverting that very easily ("oops, sorry, I forgot I put some boxes down, that why you can't come through here. Wait just one moment... / Oh dear we had a small oil spill / the IT techs are working under the carpets ... so your robot won't be able to come into Room X123 today....)

thoughts? Ideas on the benefits of these devices? Down the line maybe if they have arms and can get involved rather than just talking. But while it's just talking then why not webcams?

Re:webcam-on-wheels? what more do they do? (1)

c0lo (1497653) | about a year and a half ago | (#42575459)

What do I get by having a webcam-on-wheels?

A shelbot [youtube.com] in the car, while you safely stay in bed. Bazinga.

Re:webcam-on-wheels? what more do they do? (1)

SourceFrog (627014) | about a year and a half ago | (#42577315)

I think there is a world market for maybe 5 telepresence robots.

Re:webcam-on-wheels? what more do they do? (1)

tlhIngan (30335) | about a year and a half ago | (#42582775)

Why not just have skype/similar video conferencing software and a few web cams in a different offices?

What do I get by having a webcam-on-wheels?

Perhaps the answer is that the distance person controls where they move to... so an issue of power? But I can see low-powered workers subverting that very easily ("oops, sorry, I forgot I put some boxes down, that why you can't come through here. Wait just one moment... / Oh dear we had a small oil spill / the IT techs are working under the carpets ... so your robot won't be able to come into Room X123 today....)

thoughts? Ideas on the benefits of these devices? Down the line maybe if they have arms and can get involved rather than just talking. But while it's just talking then why not webcams?

Because people are social and mobile. If you were on Skype and I wanted to to prevent you from hearing something, it's a lot easier to move the conversation to another room without you knowing ("I need to step out for a moment"). With a telepresence robot, you can easily follow the other people around.

Plus, unless the entire company is virtual, getting people on Skype or such requires effort on their part, and I've seen plenty of instances where people forget to do it during a meeting, or on impromptu meetings held in a hallway etc.

So just "being there" moving around can give you a better grasp of a situation than merely forcing people to a meeting to see you on Skype, or trying to dig out information that people won't give you voluntarily through email.

Some interesting issues with robots (5, Interesting)

AudioLight (631454) | about a year and a half ago | (#42574955)

I have worked with a remote telepresence robot for over 5 years now: http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2007/sep/13/guardianweeklytechnologysection.news [guardian.co.uk] It's quite an interesting social experience. There are many technical challenges to consider (batteries still being what they are). Admittedly, our implementation is more "hobbyist" than anything else, but it's a very functional POC.

Why on Earth would you want these? (1)

Hentes (2461350) | about a year and a half ago | (#42575051)

When I can't attend a social event I'm happy to have an excuse not to, I definitely wouldn't want to waste my time driving around a webcam on a moving coathanger.

Maybe not you but your grandma (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42580455)

If you're an elderly person or slightly demented elderly person it can mean a lot to have your children visit you.
Sometimes visiting is not possible without many hours of travel. Therefore it won't get done so often.

Visits using a telepresence bot like the Giraff (http://www.giraff.org/?lang=en) can be done more often, making a huge improvement in the life of the elderly person. Giraff is tailored for this kind of application.

Miss Read Rundown as Run Down (3, Funny)

krgallagher (743575) | about a year and a half ago | (#42575105)

When I saw the headline I thought someone had hit a robot with a truck.

Re:Miss Read Rundown as Run Down (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42575153)

I read that too - sounded exciting - 'virtual suicide' ?!

Groceries? (1)

hendrikboom (1001110) | about a year and a half ago | (#42575231)

When can I guide one to the grocery store to get some milk when the sidewalks are too icy for me to go out?

Telepresence Robot Rundown? (1)

mc6809e (214243) | about a year and a half ago | (#42575271)

Someone call the robot paramedics!

HR? (1)

captaindomon (870655) | about a year and a half ago | (#42575273)

On a serious note, what kind of strange issues will this create with HR? Am I working in the office or not? If not, why do they say I'm not? I personally think these things are pretty hokey, but it will be interesting to see how they jive with a real office and the people in it.

No Double? (1)

aaarrrgggh (9205) | about a year and a half ago | (#42575375)

They don't Include Double?! Kind of a half-assed rundown then...

Also, the article title is much more fun-- Attack of the Telepresence Robots.

Office Miniaturization-Virtualization (3, Insightful)

kryzx (178628) | about a year and a half ago | (#42575471)

Just think, once everyone is using these we can shrink an office building down to the size of an armoire. Everyone's bot can scurry around the small building being in each other's presence. It will save oodles of money. Of course, once we've done that, we'll realize that the office building is a logical concept that doesn't need a physical presence, and we'll create a virtual office, with virtual presence bots, where everyone roams the virtual halls. And we'll call it WOW or Minecraft, or something like that. World of MeetingCraft?

Re:Office Miniaturization-Virtualization (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42580287)

Of course, once we've done that, we'll realize that the office building is a logical concept that doesn't need a physical presence, and we'll create a virtual office, with virtual presence bots, where everyone roams the virtual halls. And we'll call it WOW or Minecraft, or something like that. World of MeetingCraft?

Second Life

Re:Office Miniaturization-Virtualization (1)

Sigg3.net (886486) | about a year and a half ago | (#42580947)

I made a project like this at my previous work, since people were all over the world. But I couldn't justify the bandwidth usage in third world countries so IRC ftw!

Kids with allergies using this already (3, Interesting)

caseih (160668) | about a year and a half ago | (#42575877)

I've seen several programs about children with severe allergies that cannot attend school with other kids. The telepresence robots allow them to virtually attend school, and participate in normal classes alongside their class mates. They can go to recess with their classmates, go to the cafeteria, and in general interact with the classroom, the teacher, and the other students in a way that they find to be pretty natural. Sure a webcam and screen would work, but being able to drive remotely and interact as kids do has proved to be very successful. The other kids interact with his avatar robot just as if he were really there. It's quite encouraging to for a child who otherwise would be extremely isolated.

Maybe these are edge cases, but they do prove how this sort of technology can work.

Fashion Opportunity: (Cross-)Dress your Execs! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42575913)

Can't wait for the day I can dress my CEO's telepresence robot in a purple wig, a furry tail, fishnet stockings & a whip!

Hmm... telepresence... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42576763)

I think that Japanese guy might be into something... hey, he might really be into something!!!

android based telepresence (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42576915)

where's mine? :( we have been selling them since 2010....

www.robots-everywhere.com

How do you know it's too early to buy? (2)

MLBs (2637825) | about a year and a half ago | (#42576943)

When you click buy now, you get a form to submit for a quote.

The *real* test... (1)

heretic108 (454817) | about a year and a half ago | (#42577101)

Rule 34. Or, in other words, a major internet industry needs to VC the development of advanced tactile transducers.

Surrogate (1)

genocism (2577895) | about a year and a half ago | (#42577107)

Finally my first surrogate avatar!

Sheldon? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42577659)

Sheldon Cooper would be proud.

there was a movie like this (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42579515)

And it didn't end well.

George Bluth (1)

Takehiko (20798) | about a year and a half ago | (#42581851)

Why use a robot if you can afford the real thing? a la Arrested Development and Bob Loblaw.

I saw that movie. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42584321)

It didn't end well.

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