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What’s better than a telepresence robot? A human, apparently.
Can’t make it to that important meeting on the other side of town? That’s OK, one day you may be able to just hire a “Human Uber” to attend in your stead.
Japanese researcher Jun Rekimoto developed this particular telepresence idea. It’s a unique wearable prototype system, which is essentially a VR headset with an iPad mounted to the front. The iPad sits in front of the surrogate’s face with the remote user’s face onscreen. The surrogate follows the instructions of the remote user, and the speakers transmit the remote user’s voice. It looks like the surrogate can see thanks to the camera on the VR headset’s smartphone, which peeks out from behind one side of the iPad.
Rekimoto recently presented his idea, which he’s calling ChameleonMask, at MIT Technology Review’s EmTech event.
“Human Uber,” developed in Japan, provides a way to attend events remotely using another person’s body. “It’s surprisingly natural” says its inventor, Jin Rekimoto of Sony #emtechasia pic.twitter.com/WZHPVcZ6M0
— will knight (@willknight) January 30, 2018
According to Rekimoto’s research, the system “eliminates many difficulties of teleoperated robots wandering in the environment.” Existing robotic telepresence systems, many of which also rely on an iPad as the helm, can suffer from connectivity, navigation, and battery issues that can stop it in its tracks. A human doesn’t suffer from any of those problems, as long as they’re able to follow directions and can see where they’re going. The only problem Rekimoto foresaw was if people didn’t accept the surrogate as the users they were impersonating. In his pilot study though, people did accept the iPad-masked surrogate as the remote user presented onscreen.
There are still a handful of unanswered questions with this concept. For example, does the surrogate have to dress a certain way, per the remote user’s asking, or will remote users just have to deal if their surrogate shows up to a business meeting in cutoffs and a tank top? And then there’s the issue of compensation. Would wearers charge a flat fee for their surrogate services, or charge more depending on the amount of travel, walking, or apparel needs required? And if you use one to attend Thanksgiving dinner on your behalf, are they required to eat your grandparents’ food?
It’s certainly not the most elegant telepresence solution out there, but it looks like it could get the job done.
Christina Bonnington is a tech reporter who specializes in consumer gadgets, apps, and the trends shaping the technology industry. Her work has also appeared in Gizmodo, Wired, Refinery29, Slate, Bicycling, and Outside Magazine. She is based in the San Francisco Bay Area and has a background in electrical engineering.