Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Being there

Last Wednesday, I did an experiment in telepresence. I sat at home in front of our iMac and remotely attended our daily meeting. I could see everybody else in the room and could talk with them.

To facilitate this, I put together a little virtual me, or "BruceBot" as one of my colleagues calls it. This is what it looks like:

As you can see, it is just a simple eyeball on an eyestalk, that I can pan and tilt to follow the action. The eye is a Logitech Orbit MP connected to a Dell laptop that is connected to a wireless network, making the whole mobile.

In operation, I remotely control the laptop, connect via Skype, and ask my colleague in the next cube to wheel the file cabinet into a meeting. Before he can move it, he has to unlock the cable that attaches the laptop to my shelves and disconnect the power cable (both visible on the left side).

Once in the meeting, I can speak to and hear the other participants (over the Skype connection). In addition, I can move the eye (through the remote control of the laptop) to look at each one.

It was a lot of fun, and they all agreed it was "cool" and that it felt more to them like I was there than a simple conference phone call would. Some of them thought it was a little "creepy" and my boss was a bit intimidated by the red light, as he felt he was being recorded.

Wouldn't it be great if I could mount it all on a robot base and "drive" it into a meeting by myself? Maybe someday...