Storobia Archive

Telepresence

Telepresence is still a relatively new and evolving field. At its simplest it can mean the basic audio visual teleconference many companies use today. Going forward it could have major uses in fields such as gaming, virtual reality and AI. Ultimately telepresence systems might evolve to use future technology such as holographic generators and even allow for remote manipulation of objects.

What Is Telepresence?

Telepresence is any technology that allows someone to experience and interact with a remote location as if there. The "interaction" element is crucial and is what distinguishes telepresence from simple passive observation.

That definition is extremely broad - even a telephone could be considered a simple form of telepresence. Today the term is almost always used to mean at least simple visual communication. The standard office videoconference is probably the most widely used and known form of telepresence.

Meetings

The limitations of traditional videoconferencing systems will be known to anyone who's had to endure them. Frequently they involve low quality images and screens that give only a partial idea of what's going on the other end. True interaction is limited to placing a drawing in front of the camera or - if you're lucky - working together on a networked PC whiteboard. Communication exists but any feeling of "presence" is minimal.

With the rapid rise of dedicated high-speed communications the opportunity has opened up for telepresence systems to go far beyond simple video-conferencing. Companies such as Cisco and Digital Video Enterprises (DVE) are producing systems that are designed to overcome the limitations of standard video-conferencing by using large screens and surround sound. These technologies allow participants to experience a more immersive meeting and actually feel that they can perform basic social interaction functions such as making eye contact.

VR

The potential applications of telepresence systems to virtual reality gaming are obvious. Current systems such as Second Life do a good job of simulating a virtual environment, however the immersive experience is still hampered by the use of screen, mouse and keyboard. Over the years some people have tried to introduce VR helmets, gloves etc but these have tended to be clunky and expensive to buy. If the telepesence systems currently being developed for the business world move down into the mass market and become affordable we could see a whole new level of virtual reality. If that happens then the limiting factor is likely to be the quality of the AI which will need to simulate the effects of arritary interaction with the environment and rapidly give the user multi-sensory feedback.

Hazardous Work

Telepresence can be - literally - a life saver when it comes to working in hazardous environments. If the human controller can avoid exposure to the hazard but instead observe and direct operations remotely then this is clearly beneficial. We already have some applications of this such as remotely controlled bomb disposal and pipeline checking robots. Obviously in these cases it's essential that control and feedback mechanisms be fast, reliable and accurate.

The flip side of this is when the operator is not at hazard but the environment is - medicine. Many operations are already carried out with the help of remotely operated cameras and tools however today the surgeon normally has to be in the same room. If telepresence systems become sufficiently sophisticated then one day we might see teleoperation rooms where specialist surgeons can treat patients from around the world without leaving their office. There is also the potential for doctors to hold telesurgeries to assist local workers in remote areas. Not quite an Emergency Medical Hologram but getting there.


That might sound a bit Star Trek, but then even videophones were considered the stuff of science fiction just a few decades ago.


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