Is telepresence the best application roboticists can come up with?

Several robotics companies are working on telepresence robots designed to help people communicate. I say: boring.

1 min read

Erico Guizzo is IEEE Spectrum's Digital Innovation Director.

Several robotics companies have been working on telepresence robots lately. I say: boring.

Is that what we want robots for? A robo-body that we can inpersonate to roam around the office when we're out? A toy robot to check that burglars didn't break into the house? A remote-controlled Roomba to check on our family and pets when we're traveling? (Scrap that last one: I forgot iRobot killed its ConnectR project.)

Consider Anybots, a Silicon Valley startup led by Trevor Blackwell. Last time we talked to him, he had a bold vision of using humanoids as personal servants that could clean up the table after dinner, take the garbage out, load our dirty socks into the washing machine. The robots would be remote controlled by human operators, which in a sense makes them telepresence robots. The difference is these telepresence robots weren't designed to just help people communicate -- they were designed to take care of household chores. Now that's an application!

Recently, though, Anybots has focused on telepresence robots to help office workers interact. Sure, Anybots is a business, they need to come up with things to sell, create revenue to invest in newer, better robots. Maybe their current office robot is a first step along the road to one day populate our homes with humanoid servants. Hey, Trevor, is that the plan?

Still, watching the video from the early post and then watching the video below got me a bit depressed. Which do you think represents a more exciting vision for the future of robotics?

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