Men vs Robots (in telepresence)
Be everywhere, with a robot or a human Avatar.
What are the differences, what you need and when you need it.
Telepresence, as we intend it, is a service where you can see, hear and interact with people and things that are in a different place from your physical body.
A set of technologies which
“allow a person to feel as if they were present, to give the appearance of being present, or to have an effect, via telerobotics, at a place other than their true location”.
To really interact with a remote location you need the ability to explore the environment, even peek things, move them around and activate devices.
This is beyond the capabilities of most of the telepresence services available today. From telephony to videochats to videoconferencing systems, you can project your image and your voice, hear and see remotely and, only in a very limited number of products, move the remote camera to look around from a fixed point.
If you do not have any kind of physical body on the remote location you cannot move around your point of view and you cannot touch anything.
Robots, when teleoperated, are effective and allow humans to explore the depths of the seas, radioactive areas and even space.
Let’s examine the options on the market:
At the upper level of this field you can find the space exploration rovers: they are technological marvels that extend our perceptive and explorative capabilities into outer space and on other planets. This is not really telepresence, because they must be semi-autonomous since, even at the speed of light, any command takes a long time to reach them. Scientists on Earth issue upper-level requests that are executed remotely by artificial intelligence systems with self-preservation as the prime directive. Also, they are so expensive that almost no human being or company can buy them (even if Richard Garriott actually bought a Lunokhod russian rover sitting on the Moon).
At the upper level of this field, on Earth, you can find the famous ‘military drones‘ that can fly and attack remote enemies while you are comfortably seated into an air-conditioned base just north of Las Vegas.
Extremely expensive, getting bigger and more powerful (as you can see in this picture), these are a top-level, extremely complex technology way beyond normal human beings.
Rovers are more down-to-Earth machines used for explorations, maintenance and any kind of work in places where a human being would die or feel really uncomfortable.
When you need to work on the bottom of the sea beyond the 100 meters limit, or explore dangerous volcanoes to check for venomous gases, a rover is the only way to go.
These products have always some kind of remotely operated arm and hand, often more than one. Normally, there is an operator for the body and one for each arm/hand, so a crew of many people is needed.
The problem is that these are extremely expensive machines, really difficult to operate, that require extensive training and often more than one human operator. Not something that the average businessman or fashion-seeking lady could dream of using from their home/office.
Firefighter or police robots: these are simpler versions of work rovers and usually need just one person to operate. They are used in fire or bomb hazard situations to avoid risking human lives. Normally they are just surveyors or have at most a simple arm to open things or submerge objects in water or foam. Still expensive, but of simpler usage. Normally the manipulative capabilities are limited and specialized for the specific usage.
Beam pro system:
These robots can be remotely moved around pressing the arrow keys on the keyboard and the monitors show your person to the other people. It is like Skype on wheels, making it possible to chat and explore indoor areas.
After some hours of work you have to move back the robot to the charge station where it will dock almost automatically if within a distance of more or less one foot.
These products are hugely successful since they offer the best telepresence experience today for the general public. They are cute, easy to use and very effective.
There are some disadvantages, too: they are expensive, around 10/16000 dollars each, so normally are rented for a monthly rate.
The main problem is that these robots can only move on flat, smooth surfaces. Their usual environments are office spaces or very clean factory floors. They cannot use elevators, ride escalators or go over an uneven terrain. In a standard factory floor, probably this robots would get stuck on any kind of debris. For the same reason, these robots cannot leave any building and go outside in private or public spaces.
The question of the legal responsibility adds to the movement problem: even if a robot like this does not get stuck on an uneven terrain, if you drive it on a public road and cause any kind of accident, whose responsibility is it? Are you responsible, piloting it from miles away and with a very limited ‘situation awareness’? Or is it responsibility of the manager of the remote location that allows you to move it outdoors? And if the limits of the allowed area were not defined well enough? And if it could be the local biker’s fault? Or you inadvertently kill a dog that just wanted to play? A legal nightmare.
In Palo Alto there is the main showroom of the company (very stylish), where some of these robots (controlled by remote sellers) stay on the boardwalk waiting for prospecting customers, but even they are forbidden from going out on the streets for the legal problems that we outlined before.
Also, in many other cities of the world, robots like these would be stolen or vandalized by people, without any hope of self-defence.
The last problem is that of the lack of arms and hands. Since this is a moving videoconference system, it lacks any option for remote manipulation or activation of elements. You cannot open a door, so you would be stuck in any closed room and would be unable to exit. Also, a robot like these cannot ‘act’ on any device or object, limiting the options for meaningful interaction or industrial applications.
Drones are the latest toys and everybody want to test-pilot one of them.
They are cheap, funny and real telepresence… if you just want to fly over your physical head. No real telepresence can be achieved with these products, nor you can interact with something.
Nonetheless, did we mention that they are fun?
Not a robot? A human Avatar.
Avatars have been seen in a famous movie and in many videogames. The Avatar is another ‘person’ (an alien in the movie), or a character in a videogame, that you control and becomes your ‘other-self’ in the world of the story or the game.
The world ‘Avatar’ come from the Sanskrit word ‘Avatara‘: (Sanskrit: दशावतार, daśāvatāra) and refers to the ten avatars of Vishnu, the Hindu god of preservation. Vishnu is said to descend in form of an avatar to restore cosmic order.
Like for the gods of Greek mythology, the Avatara concept is that of a superior being that gets a physical body (sometimes stealing one from a human) to operate in our realm.
as the ultimate evolution of telepresence, we like to think that Ubiatar is the closest thing to being physically somewhere else
(our claim being “be everywhere“):
to have another human being as your Avatar in another place has a lot of advantages and could be also counterintuitive; a kind of ‘back to the future’ experience.
While a lot of big companies spend millions to create ultra-sophisticated robots to mimic the human body and capabilities, we think that there already are MILLIONS of fellow humans willing to help us overcome our physical limitations.
By offering a fair payment, we can have any number of incredibly sophisticated Avatars, the best billions of years of evolution can offer, more than ready and willing to work with us for a fair and honest job opportunity.
Instead of dumb robots, that need to be controlled every small step of the way, we can have Avatars that can understand high-level directions and autonomously navigate any environment, ride vehicles, climb on escalators, take elevators, even fly if we need to feel like a superhero.
We can have Avatars with arms and hands, that can take, manipulate, activate and even repair any element, any device, always with high-level direction, since they have the extremely advanced ability to use human hands to do the job.
With the Ubiatar API you can personalize the platform, show your logo and a company-specific log-in experience; with many videochat products this is not an option.
You can take pictures like your Avatar’s phone is your own, so that it is really a personal experience.
Human Avatars can recharge without the need for us to drive them back to any docking station, they can avoid obstacles and dangers autonomously and can even warn us if we do not notice something in the remote environment. Any legal responsibility is theirs, since they are under no obligation to follow all of our directions.
The Ubiatar technology overcomes all the problems of the products on the market and can offer the best telepresence experience, short of being physically there.
On the other hand, if you just need some of the benefits simpler products can offer, you could not use Ubiatar.
Or you could use it, just to give a honest job opportunity to other people; it is up to you.
Like in our manifesto: “making mankind better and each individual a better human”