Monday, 30 April 2012

Telepresence - the Growth of Technology

How many of us wish we could be in more than one place at a time? I surely do. Imagine the pleasure of laying in bed while being present at that board meeting. Is this possible? With today’s emerging technologies, a set of technology has made it possible for us to feel  as if we were present, as well as giving the appearance of being present, or to have an effect at a place other than their true location. This is known as telepresence. It works via telerobotics. So what are the benefits of telepresence and how is it implemented?

Telepresence is eco-friendly. For those companies and organizations that have decided that they would like to reduce travelling, carbon foot printing and environmental impact, as well as improve their employees’ ‘worklife’ and productivity, this is for you. Rather than travelling great distances in order to have a face-face meeting, it is now commonplace to instead use a telepresence system, which uses a multiple codec video system (which is what the word "telepresence" most currently represents). Each member or party of the meeting uses a telepresence room to "dial in" and can see or talk to every other member on a screen as if they were in the same room. This brings enormous time and cost benefits. It is also superior to phone conferencing (except in cost), as the visual aspect greatly enhances communications, allowing for perceptions of facial expressions and other body language.

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Members and sponsor of one of the NCU Microsoft Imagine Cup team

It is mobile. Nowadays, everyone is all about “smart technology”. Well, telepresence can work in conjunction with your mobile devices. This is done through mobile collaboration systems. Mobile collaboration systems combine the use of video, audio and on-screen drawing capabilities using newest generation hand-held mobile devices to enable multi-party conferencing in real-time, independent of location. Benefits include cost-efficiencies resulting from accelerated problem resolution, reductions in downtimes and travel, improvements in customer service and increased productivity.
So are you convinced that telepresence is for you? Telepresence provides the sensation of being present in remote from one’s own physical location. An individual would be able to move and actually receive stimuli as if they were present at the remote location. In order to fully implement this technology, three human sensory elements were integrated to provide users with this familiarity. These elements include; vision, sound, and manipulation.

With telpresence, the user’s field of view is filled with a view of the remote location and the viewpoint corresponds to the movement and orientation of the user's head. In this way, it differs from television or cinema, where the viewpoint is out of the control of the viewer. In order to achieve this, the user may be provided with either a very large (or wraparound) screen, or small displays mounted directly in front of the eyes. The latter provides a particularly convincing 3D sensation. The movements of the user's head must be sensed, and the camera must mimic those movements accurately and in real time. This is important to prevent unintended motion sickness. Another source of future improvement to telepresence displays, compared by some to holograms, is a projected display technology featuring life-sized imagery. Sound is one of those sensations that can be easily generated. Very high-fidelity sound equipment has also been available for a considerable period of time, with stereophonic sound being more convincing than monaural sound.

The ability to manipulate a remote object or environment is an important aspect for some telepresence users, and can be implemented in large number of ways depending on the needs of the user. This involves the movements of the user's hands (position in space, and posture of the fingers) are sensed by wired gloves, inertial sensorsor absolute spatial position sensors. Arobot in the remote location then copies those movements as closely as possible. This ability is also known as teleoperation. 

Here at Northern Caribbean University we still believe in face-to-face real time communication. We are required to attend work, and then navigate from work into a meeting. We have learnt that the art of multitasking while prioritising at the same time. Telepresence may take some time before it is implemented at the University, however, other forms of telepresence will soon be used in classrooms. For example: video chat to assist students in online learning. 

Mikki Clarke