Friday, June 14, 2013

High and low end approaches to telepresence

Marvin Minsky of MIT published an article on telepresence in Omni in 1980. He credits science fiction visionaries and goes on to describe several practical applications for manipulating things at a distance. Minsky's examples involve point-to-point links between the operator and the remote device.

When the Internet came along, it became possible to make that link across the network. My first encounter with Internet-based telepresence was the remotely operated telescope at Bradford University in the UK. One visited the telescope Web site and filled in a form like the one shown here. Your request was queued, and you were informed by email when your image was ready.

(If you are not an ACM Digital Library member, you can view the above article by clicking here and searching for the article entitled "The Internet is not TV: Web publishing").

Well, the technology (and the science fiction visions) have progressed significantly since that time. Let's look at two current examples -- one high end and one low end.

The high end example is AVA 500 a robot that can wander autonomously around a building and put you in a remote teleconference. Developed by Cisco and iRobot, the AVA 500 will lease for around $2,500 per month. Check it out in this video:

At the low end, we have Romo, a $149 trainable robot that uses an iPhone as a camera/processor and can be controlled from any iOS device. Financing for Romo has been on Kickstarter.
I don't know about you, but I expect that I will have a Romo before I have an AVA 500.

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Update 6/20/2013

Mat Lee pointed me to a Kickstarter project that hopes to put a telescope in space. The project will be run by NASA veterans and has reached its $1 million goal with ten days to go. What a difference 18 years makes!