Not all telepresence robot use centers on the work environment. They’ve also been adopted by a few school and higher-education institutions.
While a few students use the robots to attend class, one notable user uses his as a matter of safety, as going to school could prove extremely dangerous. The student in question is 7-year-old Devon Carrow-Sperduti of West Seneca, N.Y., who is afflicted with severe allergies that could prove potentially fatal if he incurs an allergic attack of any kind -- he was diagnosed with eosinophilic esophagitis disease and anaphylactic shock syndrome. In order for him to attend class, Devon’s parents opted for him to use the VGo telepresence robot.
The VGo is outfitted with a 6-inch LCD screen, a high-resolution camera with automatic/manual tilt and pan for streaming video and taking pictures, indication LEDs, and a programmable input pad situated on the robot's head. The bot is also equipped with four microphones and built-in speakers for communication. Its base is outfitted with sensors for navigation and safety, a 12-hour rechargeable battery, headlights, and two independently controlled wheels. Not only can Devon attend his classes, but he can also socialize with his friends at lunch and recess. It gives him and his friends the sense that he’s actually there.
Earth isn’t the only place where telepresence robots are used. NASA has adopted them for use outside the Earth’s atmosphere, including aboard the International Space Station (ISS).
Conceptualized by DARPA and developed by GM and NASA, the Robonaut 2 (R2) is essentially the current pinnacle (as of today) of telepresence use, as the robot can be controlled by those onboard the ISS itself or from those situated on Earth. R2 is also capable of performing autonomous tasks such as sensor monitoring and adjustment, tool handling for minor repairs, and other minor tasks as needed.
The robot is equipped with an impressive amount of hardware, including more than 350 sensors and 38 radiation-shielded PowerPC processors, two independently controlled arms with articulated hands (with 12-DOF each) capable of lifting 40 lbs., and four cameras (3 HD and 1 IR) mounted in the head, and it runs off of the ISS DC feed. The robot weighs in at roughly 330 lbs. (mostly because of its steel and aluminum frame) and has a fire-retardant skin, electromagnetic shielding, and ultra-efficient super-quiet heatsink/fans that allow the robot to work longer without overheating. R2 can be affixed to just about anything such as a moon-rover or work area, and NASA states future upgrades may bring about legs as well as the ability to work out in the vacuum of space itself.
While telepresence robots are mostly used in the tech industry’s workshops and offices, it’s easy to see them adapted for use just about anywhere that humans don’t have direct access to because of health or distance. As we enter 2013, it’s becoming clear that with businesses looking to expand their services in the global markets, the demand for telepresence technology will grow beyond its relative infancy. Chances are it will become a common sight to see co-workers using them in the office and boardroom. They may become so popular that we will see them being used for shopping or doctors using them to make house calls. Plus, who wants to go in to work anyway?