To overcome the physical distance between our New York offices and our editor in chief--who lives and works on the West Coast--Popular Science is exploring the cutting edge of telepresence technologies.
The emerging field of telepresence and telerobotics has produced some fairly out-there forms to carry out their functions, and researchers at Yamagata University in Japan don’t seem to have any problem pushing that envelope. Their concept: a telepresence robot that quite literally is that voice in your ear, that angel (or devil) on your shoulder. The MH-2 (for “miniature humanoid”) is a remotely controlled robot that lives on your shoulder and conveys a person’s gestures and movements from a distance.
Telepresence is cool, but it’s currently not very versatile and--at least if you’re going the commercial telepresence robot route--pretty expensive. For a princely sum, you can remotely putter around a faraway office or home and communicate with people there via a computer terminal. Outside of that, the technology has yet to break down any serious walls. That is, until software engineer Taylor Veltrop devised a way to brush his cat remotely via a robotic avatar, spearheading what could be the biggest revolution in cat-grooming technology since that kitty brush that you wear like a glove.
Keio University researchers are taking telepresence to the next logical level with a new “telexistence” robot called TELESAR V, a robotic platform that doesn’t just transport the user's eyes to another location, but also his or her ears and hands as well. The idea is to break through the limitations of time and space to allow a user to actually feel like he or she is present elsewhere via a remotely operated robot that returns three sensory stimuli back to the user.
Talking via a telepresence robot can be a great way to participate in activities when you can’t be physically present, but these systems are expensive, can be tricky to use and aren't really designed for spontaneity. And despite what modern meeting-tacular schedules suggest, some of the most productive discussions in an office take place randomly, via subtle personal communications.
For some reason, telepresence--the concept of having your person (in audio and/or video form) represented by some kind of machine while you are physically elsewhere--has lent itself to extreme goofiness. It's not really a goofy idea, and yet we've seen squishy larval phones, shoulder-mounted robots, the Anybots robot (which recently ordered coffee in a Palo Alto shop), and now this blimp-like thing from Sony that projects your face onto what's essentially a motorized balloon.
Today at Stanford's Robot Block Party, we are running around inside an Adept Robotics MT400 robot, from the comfort of our desks in New York. We can see everything the robot sees, and so can you, right here.
Getting up for class or an early meeting always goes the same way: you get out of bed, and it goes downhill from there. But if a couple of researchers from Stanford and UC Santa Barbara are correct in their new book, in a few years we’ll all be meeting in virtual classrooms and conference rooms anyhow. This isn’t just the same old future hype, they say; technology has caught up with the vision, and the age of the avatar is imminent.
This Thursday, April 14, PopSci is going to get down at Stanford University's Robot Block Party in California, from the comfort of our desks in New York City. How? We'll be using the latest technology in telepresence, steering an Adept MT400 mobile robot around the party via a wireless connection.
Most telepresence robots are geared toward providing the user with a remote presence in the workplace or home. TEROOS, a shoulder-mounted telepresence robot developed by researchers at Keio University and elsewhere in Japan, is making telepresence more of a social experience.
Larvabot is baaack ... and now it’s in your pocket, giving a whole new meaning to the vibrate setting on your cell phone. The new Elfoid telepresence telephone tickles its owner when it gets a call, wriggling to transmit your head and face movements, along with your voice, to the person on the other end of the line.
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.