Telepresence Gets Spooky


by Tim Moran

Yoo Hoo! It's me, Telenoid. Ready for our budget meeting?

There is probably not a weirder area of business-technology R&D than "telepresence." We took at look, a while back, at Vgo, a remote avatar telepresence robot that "is four feet tall and looks a bit like dog bone with a hole in the middle and a little TV at the top."

This was clunky and a little silly, but it wasn't scary.

telenoid.jpgTelenoid is.

Technology Review reports on the work of "roboticist Hiroshi Ishiguro, who has previously created some unnervingly realistic humanoid machines. . . His newest and arguably most unsettling robot yet is Telenoid, which resembles a barely-formed robotic child, with a soft body, clay-like face and stubs instead of limbs."

Yep, that's pretty much what it looks like.

The idea is that this thing is operated by someone using a "webcam and custom telepresence software. A tracking system tracks the user's head movements and voice." It is meant to represent a human "presence" that can be used for remote work, teaching, or conversation. But there's more: unlike other telepresence bots or avatars, Telenoid "is able to be hugged and handled while a user is talking to a remote acquaintance."

It's worth a trip to the link above to see the video of Telenoid in action--in Japanese, of course. An older man--Ishiguro?--interacts with the bot, including putting his hands on its shoulders. It's quite a sight.

A research paper says, ". . . one can easily recognize the Telenoid as a human [and it appears] as both male and female, as both old and young. By this minimal design, the Telenoid allows people to feel as if an acquaintance in the distance is next to you."

I don't know about you, but I don't know anybody who would remind me of Telenoid -- although I haven't seen the Stay Puft Marshmallow guy in few years.