Today’s world requires a medium of communication that is an alternative to meeting face-to-face.
Even though phones and video calls are insanely popular, they are confined to the screens and the devices those programs run on, and people know that it’s not the real thing.
I wanted to find out the easiest way I could mend this seemingly broken bridge and try to keep video conferencing interesting.
There was a requirement to bring down the number of people coming into work but keep them in touch with their teams, so I checked out the relatively new Telepresence robot space.
I got in touch with a few of my contacts, who I knew were working on telepresence robots and asked them to pitch the idea to me.
I also did a few hours of independent research into the topic to have the most unbiased view possible.
The article that you’re going to read has everything that I had found out and inferred so that you can understand what telepresence robots actually do.
A telepresence robot allows you to be in places where you can’t be physically, thereby connecting to the robot, viewing its video feed, and communicating with the people on the other side with its microphones and speakers.
I’ll be digging deeper into these fascinating pieces of technology that are sure to make waves in the future.
What is a Telepresence Robot?
A telepresence robot is a robot that’s built to interact and act as a stand-in for employees or people who may not be present physically.
The robot can have built-in microphones and cameras that the person calling can use to interact with the people on the other side; some models also allow you to look around if you want to.
The robot can hear what is spoken and relay it back to the person connected to it and play on speaker what the person connected to the robot is saying.
You’ll also have a visual feed of the person on the other side, and with the cameras on the bot, show what it sees to the person calling.
Simply put, the robot puts you on location, let it be a classroom or an office, within seconds and ready to let you interact with whoever is on the other side.
How Do Telepresence Robots Work?
Telepresence robots are basically cameras and microphones on wheels.
While it is possible in theory to let the robot control itself, it might not be useful or maybe even detrimental for the person using the robot.
But it doesn’t mean the robot doesn’t have any sort of autonomy, though, and most models have obstacle detection and avoidance systems.
You can manually control the robots with an app or program installed on any computer connected to the internet.
You’ll need a camera and microphone on your end to see and talk to the people on the robot’s end, as well.
A typical telepresence robot has a tablet that is its brain and tells it where to go, but some models do away with the tablet and have a purpose-built processor.
The obstacle avoidance and other navigation systems run on the tablet or the internal processor, letting the robot move around the area where it is deployed.
These guidance systems don’t transfer control to the robot completely, and only perform basic functions like avoiding an obstacle or moving to preprogrammed locations.
Some models also use multiple computers for movement and communication, but those are on the higher end in pricing and offer more features than the regular robots.
What are the Advantages of Telepresence Robots?
The benefits that telepresence robots bring in are, of course, pretty good. I’ll be talking about a few of them here.
Corporate travel costs are always a significant part of a company’s overall costs, and having telepresence robots in every location can cut down on these costs.
No longer would you need to send a team of people in for inspections or meetings; you can do all of it sitting in your own office thousands of miles away.
It also helps with employee well-being when it significantly eliminates the travel stress and fatigue that your employees go through after several business trips, leading to an increase in their overall productivity.
These robots can be used as a remote presence of yourself, so keeping an eye on someone vulnerable like the elderly, children, or someone with a medical condition is also made a whole lot easier.
There’s nothing stopping you from connecting to multiple robots at once, which means you can be at two places at once while not even moving an inch from where you are right now.
You can also use specially designed telepresence robots to monitor areas that are hazardous to humans.
As widespread adoption of the technology increases, we will also be able to see further developments in robotics and AI in general seep into the telepresence space.
What are the Disadvantages of Telepresence Robots?
The primary disadvantage to the telepresence robots we have today is that they aren’t intelligent.
They still use rudimentary line following and sensor technology to navigate and require a person to be connected to the robot for people to interact with it.
The battery life for the robots isn’t that great either because of its functions, but you can’t add more batteries to the robot because it will just add weight and only slow it down.
The robots can’t be connected to their destination over the public internet since the security on these robots aren’t really world-class. This would make it easy for someone who is determined enough, to compromise its security and access it’s cameras and microphones.
Therefore, it needs to be integrated with existing corporate networks and security systems. This can cost time and money depending on the company’s security configuration and policies.
How Much Does a Telepresence Robot Cost?
Since telepresence robots are still in their early stages of adoption, prices can be more marked up than usual.
For example, Ohmni offers their telepresence robot at around $2,300, but the prices for other robots from other brands and even Ohmni themselves can go upwards of $3,000.
When more businesses, schools, and hospitals start adopting this technology, we’ll see the prices going down.
But for now, you will have to pay the price of being an early adopter, but the benefits that the robot brings are worth the price you pay.
The prices also depend on whether the robot requires a tablet or if it is one of those models with everything you need built-in.
The former will be cheaper than the latter because the hardware sold to you requires something that you already own.
Where Are Telepresence Robots Used?
Telepresence robots are beneficial in looking after the elderly and infirm and can act as an emergency point of contact for anyone that requires urgent help.
It can also help people who have difficulty interacting with actual human beings and keep an eye on them and their well-being.
Doctors can check in with their patients with motor impairments if they have a telepresence robot at home and schedule remote doctor’s appointments.
The medical and corporate fields aren’t the only ones who benefit from telepresence robots, with the education sector benefitting a lot.
You can get teachers to areas where they can’t quickly get to and let them teach students who aren’t well off and can’t make the journey to school.
Teachers can also use telepresence robots as a teaching tool where they bring in subject experts to talk about whatever the kids are studying to make their journey through school exciting and fresh.
Popular Telepresence Robots Today
There are a few good telepresence robots that you can get, but be aware that you’ll be an early adopter of the technology, and prices can look a bit steep.
The best budget telepresence robot I can recommend is the Ohmni Robot by OhmniLabs.
They are priced pretty well at under $2,600 and depending on the model you select, you can get a wide-angle 4K UHD camera and HD+ video streaming.
The Double 3 by Double Robotics is also a great choice that doesn’t need an iPad and uses a powerful Nvidia processor for its tasks.
The depth sensors and high-res cameras also make this a pretty good robot for navigation.
You can also have AR or mixed reality overlays to add to the experience that the other side has, but all of these features come at around $4,000.
If you already have a Double 2, you can upgrade to the Double 3 by paying only $2,000.
iRobot, the company behind the Roomba, also has a popular model geared towards businesses called the Ava 500.
The Ava was built from the ground up to be as easy to use as possible, so it’s best used at a business where all kinds of people might interact with it.
What Does the Future Hold for Telepresence Robots?
Telepresence robots and their associated sectors have been predicted to reach almost $312 million by 2023, according to a market projection made in 2017.
With the current crisis and the significant shift to remote work and online meetings, the relevancy of telepresence robots has never hit higher points.
The sector is expected to grow more than the actual projection, and as more money is poured into this fast-growing market, more companies and brands will invest, so the growth potential is extremely high.
As advances in robotics happen in parallel, the tech developed there can also find itself in the telepresence space, making these robots even more attractive to prospective buyers.
The potential for collaboration that a telepresence robot brings as the technology matures frankly has me excited as an onlooker and might even take the plunge later down the line.
The Metaverse and Its Implications
When Facebook announced its flagship metaverse project, it interested many in the tech space because it intends to create a universe entirely in VR.
This is the next step in the evolution of telepresence robots because it doesn’t matter where your team members are located; you’ll only need to plug into the metaverse where you can collaborate, just like in real life, to get work done.
The technology required for those grand ideas is still in development, but as of now, telepresence robots are still a huge market with a lot of potential.
Decades down the line, we would ideally be seeing both pieces of technology working side by side to supplement each other.
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Frequently Asked Questions
When were telepresence robots invented?
One of the first telepresence robots in concept was invented in 1992 by the United States Air Force’s Armstrong Labs.
Louis Rosenberg invented this relatively archaic device that could only simulate you being present somewhere remotely.
What is the difference between WebEx and telepresence?
WebEx is a conferencing app available on your phone and computer but is just like a regular video conferencing app.
Telepresence is a more custom-made solution for people to be present physically without being there.
Where are teleoperated robots used?
Teleoperated robots are robots that can be viewed and controlled remotely.
They are primarily used in the medical field for robotic surgery and the military for explosive ordnance disposal.
How expensive are telepresence robots?
Custom-made telepresence robots can go up to $15,000 for the best high-end products, while more affordable ones can cost up to $2000-3000 per unit.