Telecommunications have already made significant changes to the workplace. Working from home or other remote locations is now a reality for many employees and managers. While this creates many benefits in terms of work-life balance and increased productivity, it also could result in some significant drawbacks. However, robotics can help overcome many of these issues.
Head on a Stick
The most common form of telepresence robot is the tablet on a Segway, or iPad on a stick. These devices are quite simple in appearance—a tablet set on a shaft at about head height, connected to a wheeled base. Some robots feature additional cameras or audio equipment attached to the shaft.
Early versions of these machines were unable to keep up with a normal human walking pace, could not cope with even minor obstructions on the floor, and suffered from poor controls and lackluster audiovisual quality. Today, many new telepresence robots can keep up or even slightly surpass normal walking speeds. They also offer high-quality audiovisual feeds and can overcome minor terrain obstructions, such as small items on the floor.
The head-on-a-stick version of robots is just the beginning, however. There are more-humanoid robots in various stages of development. More advanced robotics would allow a person to be present not only for communication but will also eventually enable the remote worker to physically help with tasks as well.
Amazing Benefits of Robotic Telepresence
Some people who work remotely don’t yet understand the benefit of robotic methods of telepresence, but many people are discovering several perks to having a mobile version of you themselves:
• Exploration. Being able to physically explore a company’s offices from halfway around the world creates a greater sense of inclusiveness and allows personal interaction in a way a remote employee might otherwise never experience.
• Attending meetings. While there are simpler methods of attending meetings remotely, being telepresent in a mobile robot allows for some more subtle experiences. A robot can move to the head of the room or walk off to the side to speak privately with one person, for example.
• Extending human agency. People who use robots to communicate remotely rather than using simple video or audio feeds have a greater feeling of control.
The Limitations of a Robotic Experience
Many of the drawbacks of advanced telepresence robots come from the lag time in communicating remotely or the awkwardness of a person conversing through or with a machine.
Specific problems with telepresence robots include:
• The lack of human intimacy. There is a certain amount of intimacy present in a simple conversation between two people. However, a telepresence robot does not inspire this same feeling of human contact.
• The inability to act on certain methods of communication. This includes nonverbal body cues that demonstrate a person’s mood, intent, and more.
• Lack of access and sturdiness. Current telepresence robots are rather flimsy machines. They are easily toppled over and lack the ability to traverse anything but smooth floors without issue.
• It affects how people think of the person. Telepresence robots are often viewed as being cute. This feeling can be extended to the person using the robot to communicate and can influence relationships and opinions of people working with the telecommuter.
Using robots for more effective telecommunication is a reality. As technology advances, more people will spend more time working from remote locations and will use robots to increase the effectiveness of their presence. Benefits and drawbacks abound for telepresence robotics, but the latest technology helps the pros to outweigh the cons.