Posted by: Peter Quirk | September 29, 2008

Bizarre device for telepresence – why not use virtual worlds?

Today I saw a description of the TiLR telerobot, a remote controlled camera & screen that is supposed to stand in for you at a meeting. It’s value proposition is that it is cheaper than Cisco’s Telepresence and mobile enough to be moved between meeting rooms.

Compare it with the flexibility afforded by a virtual world client of virtually any kind, running on any PC. The telerobot can only look, listen and talk. Your avatar in a virtual world setting can do all that for a whole lot less money, and it can demonstrate concepts, guide you through a prototype design, show you a web page, show you a streaming video, present you with a gift, add you to group of friends, manipulate a molecule, perform in a live concert, run a training session – the list goes on. With virtual worlds appearing on high-end phones, or being streamed via the Vollee service to phones with video support, it’s hard to imagine anything more mobile and more flexible for remote meetings.


  1. Peter, I’m all for the developments in the immersive and virtual worlds space, but the telerobot is pretty cool, too. I’ve been following the Ivan project from iAnywhere/Sybase for awhile, and I envy the telecommuter guy who gets to have his “avatar” in place at the office. It scoots around the office at his remote controlled command and lets him hang out with his co-workers in their physical locations – not just if and when they are online at their computer in a virtual space – but at the water cooler or the pantry or heading to the elevator. Thanks for the link to the TechCrunch article – I didn’t know there was a commercial offering of something like iVan!

  2. Very interesting Peter – that looks almost the exact same as the ‘robot doctor’ being trialled in an Irish hospital which I wrote about in my first blog post. You can see the video here – (down the page a bit). I have to admit the ability for the doctor to tilt and twist the ‘head’ (monitor) does almost give it an eerie touch of life-likeness

  3. Hi Cherisa! The telerobot still suffers from the limitations of its physical location. My office is in one of many on our linear campus in Hopkinton, MA. We move from building to building (in hybrid shuttles) for meetings. I just can’t see the telerobot negotiating the revolving doors and getting on the shuttle! Even getting around the building is a challenge for robots. MIT’s tour guide robot requires ARTags to be stuck all over the ceiling so it can detrmine it’s location and orientation. That also requires an extra camera and additional processing power.

    I look forward to the day when devices like Samsung’s miVON ( enable more people to participate in meetings from any location.

  4. Thanks James – telemedicine applications could be very valuable. I’m just not enamoured of spending all that money to enable a manager to sit at the 19th hole and attend a meeting remotely!

    Some use cases for such a telemedicine robot include attending to patients with highly infectious diseases, those suffering from radiation exposure, and the ever-present battlefield injury situations on the front line.

    In Cisco’s hospital of the future demonstration in Second Life, many of the diagnostic systems are mobile robots. For example, the MRI machine comes to the patient’s bedside rather than the patient going to the machine.

  5. Very true Peter. And in the Irish hospital trial they’re being used for that critical fast response to assess potential stroke victims.

  6. Yes, being mobile doesn’t mean Tyler or Ivan can actually get around like a real person does, but it does provide a sense of presence for both the remote person and the colleagues at the office. And by office, it is just that – not a whole building or campus. Presence is developing on multiple fronts, and it’s interesting to watch.

  7. More on robotic telepresence here:
    And here’s some more on hospital applications, including the RP-7 robot:

  8. Peter,

    I don’t think that you can compare a telepresence bot to virtual worlds. They have two distinct (though in some cases overlapping) applications. Virtual worlds are valuable if all parties agree to participate. I use second life but none of my co-workers want to (or even like to). Does this mean that I should force them to use the same virtual world AND be logged in at all times in case I want to interact with them? In my case at least, having a robot at the office while I’m away (which is often these days) would be invaluable. Also, I can use robotic telepresence technology today and don’t have to wait for phones to provide the data-crunch power that is required for rendering virtual world.

    That said, I am planning to apply to robodynamics’ beta program ( and test their robot for myself.

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