Robots and teleconferencing

Have you ever been involved in a video conference or teleconference and felt that something was missing?   You were glad you were having the meeting without travel logistics and costs, but you were left with a feeling that your points, or the remote participants’ points, were not being fully understood.   The technology was getting you closer, but it was not the same as the face-to-face experience.   There is something new and interesting out there from Double Robotics , and the price point makes it accessible.

I was on a regular Google hangout with some colleagues last week, and Brian Paige (CIO – Calvin College) and Pete Hoffswell (Network Manager – Davenport University) wanted to show us something “new and interesting”.   Our bi-weekly conversation is always engaging and fascinating, but this particular one really got me interested and excited and there were lots of questions from my peers on the call as well.  Brian and Pete showed one of Double’s telepresence robots.

Not only is the robot a ‘cool’ piece of technology, I really think it has some very practical applications.  Like a lot of technology it is not the ultimate solution, but it is a step toward that elusive state.  There isn’t much to it, but sometimes simplicity brings the best ideas forward.   It is essentially a talking head, but the head (an iPad) sits on a stick that is attached to a small Segway device.   The remote individual whose head shows on the iPad can steer the device remotely.  It makes use of the front and back camera. One is downward facing to allow it to see the environment and steer correctly.

So, imagine you have a speaker at an event and instead of them being projected on the screen they can now move around on a stage, similar to what a face-to-face speaker would do.  At Calvin they even hung a t-shirt on the robot to add more personality to the device.   I think the point is that the Double device already has more personality than a screen image and we are already interacting with it differently.   Imagine a boardroom meeting and the remote participant actually wheels into the office and pulls up to a spot around the table.  IT isn’t a perfect substitute but I would love to watch if the dynamics change.

In terms of accessibility I also think there could be some interesting opportunities.  The device is small and can go to many places that others may not be able to go because of physical restrictions.   I wonder how meeting participants would react to the device, and whether their reactions to it would be different than their reactions to individuals with or without various accessibility issues.  I don’t know the answer to that,  but I would be curious to learn more about how the device is being used in different sorts of situations.

After the call I got thinking about how Queen’s could use the device.   Calvin was using it in Education to bring remote student teachers into small group meetings.  I could see our School of Business using this for a lot of their remote teaching, which relies heavily on building a personalized experience.  How does this fit into our active teaching initiatives?  What could be done in Health Sciences?   Could we do remote rounds?

These devices are mobile, the price point is reasonable, I think people would find lots of interesting things to do this, and it is fun!   I would love to have one of these around for people to play with.

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