Your Avatar Has Arrived
by Tim Moran
Have you heard about "telepresence" or "active presence"?
Think of it as a robot that's you. Or it's you as a robot. Or it's an avatar of you as a robot. Or something.
Anyway, a recent story on FastCompany.com , "This Is the Telepresence Droid You've Been Looking For" gets under the hood of Vgo, the hottest new telepresence bot.
(There's also a follow-up story with the dreadful headline, "Vgo Telepresence Bot Revealed: A Whole Remote-Working Day of Battery.")
Kit Eaton, the author of both pieces, writes that Vgo is "possibly the first truly viable remote-working avatar robot we've seen." It's certainly the first one I've seen, although in the robotics world it seems that these are all the rage of late.
Says Eaton: "Telepresence droids may be in the news at the mo, but previous efforts have looked comedic and been obscenely expensive. Enter Vgo, with a sci-fi-ish name [and] sleek ready-for-TV looks."
Vgo 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 is where your face would be--or a video of your face, anyway. (There are some good pictures and a neat video with the story.) When all the proper connections have been made and networks set up, Vgo can take your "physical place" at the office, in meetings, or just roaming the corridors at HQ.
Vgo works over Wi-Fi for streaming the H.264 video and audio. There are four microphones, and the camera can be positioned for "any view," which apparently provides "an in-person perspective." It works on any Windows PC with Webcam, speakers and mic.
What Eaton is especially jazzed about is the battery life: six to 10 hours, and it will "auto-charge" when running low on juice. The other thing that makes Vgo different from similar telepresence bots is that it costs around $5,000, plus a mandatory $1,200 a year in support. Other such bots cost more in the $15,000+ range.
Bots like this might seem a bit silly to some of us right now, and they are probably not going to take over offices around the globe any time soon. But, as Eaton explained: "This sort of technology is going to arrive in the mainstream, eventually. Home working has so many advantages for some workers that it'll surely become more popular, and since the communal office space is a business model that's not going to evaporate any time soon, telepresence bots are a neat half-way house."
Of course, we'll all know it's time to retire when our Vgos meet only other Vgos in the office because there isn't a real physical soul there. Think of how much companies can save then in coffee and toilet paper, alone. Viva Vgo!