I have become fascinated by the possibilities of telepresence robots. There are a bevy of new companies that are making these machines.
You might imagine one as a Segway scooter with an iPad on top, except in this case instead of riding the scooter you are driving it from 100 or thousand miles away over the Internet. And, the iPad projects your image, or presence, in addition to bringing you sight and sound.
Actually there are a number of configurations of these devices that range in price from about $3000-$15,000 each. You can see some examples here.
A number of years ago I had the experience while talking with someone over a Skype video connection of having them carry their portable computer around and introducing me to people and showing me the convention facility where the person was working. Some years afterward I remember visually remembering this experience and feeling a certain amount of confusion, because I knew I had never been in that place with this person. Yet, in my visual memory it felt as if I had actually been there until I recognized it was this person acting as my telepresence robot and moving through this space to show me things.
I realized from this experience that when I eventually use one of these telepresence robots I’m going to have to create a new set of mental file folders for visual experiences at a distance. And, I also realized how interesting those experiences might be.
I’ve been to Paris, but I’ve never toured the Louvre Museum. I wonder what it would be like to tour it as a telepresence tourist? Could I wander down the halls with my remotely controlled presence and stop and enjoy artworks of particular interest? How would others react to my presence? How comfortable would the museum authorities be knowing that the person controlling this device was well beyond their physical, or perhaps even legal, reach?
Are there business opportunities for telepresence tourist agencies? Could the museum itself organize a fleet of these 21st century avatars and offer special tours at times when the museum might otherwise be closed, but that would be prime time for tourist many time zones away? With a globally aging population that might have strength or agility limitations, might these folks represent a new, untapped market for the museum? People could tour from the safety of their lounge chair, yet have much to talk about with others over dinner in the evening.
So, keep your eye out for telepresence robots. They may let us expand our world in new ways.
Where do you think the opportunities will emerge? What issues and concerns can you envision?