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Bell Labs Builds Cheap Telepresence 'Robots' 65

schliz writes "Alcatel-Lucent's research arm, Bell Labs, is building low-cost robots that represent remote participants in meeting rooms. Researchers hope it will address the issue of the natural, non-verbal 'voting mechanism,' by which people determine who should speak based on who most people are looking at. The technology will likely be priced in the 'hundreds of dollars,' rather than the tens of thousands that the likes of Cisco and Polycom charge for high-end telepresence rooms."
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Bell Labs Builds Cheap Telepresence 'Robots'

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  • Besides that though, what is the point of having a robotic "remote presence" for a meeting? What's wrong with a a telephone or even videos? I think that those researchers have been watching to many movies.
    • by arkenian ( 1560563 ) on Monday November 07, 2011 @01:59AM (#37970880)
      actually, I can totally see the point of what they're trying for. The absolute most difficult part of a teleconference is managing when/how people speak, and all the nonverbal cues we use in 'real' meetings to handle this. Videoconferencing doesn't usually fix the issue if you've got more than two sites. Some sort of reliable technology that could give me real non-verbal feedback as to what's going on in a meeting for managing speakers would be awesome. Though I have a hard time believing that any system could currently really achieve anything that wasn't just another approach to strictly-moderated (which you can do just fine with text-chat during a telecon)
      • by Lumpy ( 12016 )

        " The absolute most difficult part of a teleconference is managing when/how people speak,"

        really? then the person that set up the teleconference is not doing his/her job. It is their job to keep everything moving and to cue people to talk.
        Plus who does phone only conferences anymore? with videoconference this eliminates this.

        Problem is for some reason far end Conference rooms are all in dungeons. Or the executives there ignore their AV engineers and don't install proper lighting in the room and at leas

        • Or the executives there ignore their AV engineers and don't install proper lighting in the room and at least a 10,000 lumen projector or use a plasma to overcome the added lighting needed for the cameras.

          Thar's yer problem. We have the sensors and signal processing today to not require a TV-studio installation for video conferencing. This stuff is wrapped up in $30,000 gear at the moment, but apply some Moore's Law (and hope against patent law) and we should see video conference gear that can be plunked d

      • Found a 2010 video of a prototype []. Looks like an internal demo video...seems odd that it's online.
    • by Rennt ( 582550 )
      Have you done much teleconferencing? The extended, awkward silences as nobody knows who is supposed to be talking are a real problem. Not a serious problem mind you, but there is definitely room for improvement.
      • by Inda ( 580031 )
        That's what the chairman should control. If they have a proper agenda, it helps.

        People playing with the camera is my biggest headache. Leave the thing alone man! I can see your presention if you email it before hand. I can see it if you push the big "Go" button on the remote. I don't need you to point the camera at the projection screen, or even worse, point it at the 50 inch plasma. In fact, I can control your camera from my end if you front the money for something decent.

        The mircophone placement is the ne
      • I used to do it all the time, and none of the companies I was with ever showed evidence of it aside from the rare person who just wasn't very good speaking in any situation. I'm going with the sentiment that it's mostly about the people running the meeting, and not the nature of it.
    • by Arlet ( 29997 )

      I've joined plenty of teleconferences (mainly with engineers, though), and don't remember ever having a problem with just telephones.

      I've done a few video conferences, and didn't feel the video was adding anything. Also, often some party will have a video problem, and you waste a lot of time trying to get it fixed during the meeting.

      Robots seem like complete overkill. They also don't work when joining the conference from places where you don't have all that infrastructure set up, like at home.

    • Did you ever take acid? Just hearing about these things makes me want to go find some.

    • What do you mean? My trusty Bell 212A has never dro)(*@$#qFw&^h^ +++NO CARRIER

  • by Hamsterdan ( 815291 ) on Monday November 07, 2011 @01:44AM (#37970826)

    Cheap internet access whithout insane limits...

  • welcome our low-cost, boardroom robot overlords.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Re-purpose them to inflict pain on people at the other end of the meeting?
    Perhaps my dream of being able to punch people over the internet is closer to being realised?

  • It would be more interesting if they created a solution with eye tracking that lit up counter LEDs in front of the people in the board room, or one of the monitors. That seems like it would be far more high tech and efficient, and if done right would be pretty easy to understand/use. It would also work for the remote users - not just the boardroom participants - since they'd have their LEDs light up on remote location when people were focusing on them, giving a good indication that they had the floor to ta

  • by danielsfca2 ( 696792 ) on Monday November 07, 2011 @03:21AM (#37971068) Journal

    Is the robot "face" screen going to be showing the live video of the person's face? If so, since presumably you don't have a Steadicam operator staying directly in front of each human being represented by robots at all times, this is going to look weird. It will be hard to even keep your face in frame as you naturally move around, swivel your chair, etc. Even if your face can somehow be properly framed, the front of your robot face (which itself swivels) will keep showing the sides of your face as you turn to look at various people.

    This can be avoided at the great expense of losing the live video of the person--you can just put a static picture of the person's face on the bot, but this seems a big step back from a regular videoconference--you can't see the person's facial expressions.

    Not to mention, this enhances a SINGLE nonverbal body language feature (direction of head pointing) while utterly destroying all other nonverbal information you get from a plain old videoconference, including overall posture, hand gestures, etc. The robot can't fold its arms, make a gesture, tilt its head side to side, etc.

    I think this idea is quite a stretch.

    • by pmontra ( 738736 )
      I had mod points yesterday. If I had any left today I'd mod you +1 Insightful.
    • by Lumpy ( 12016 )

      helmet cam is the answer

    • Also, I don't know if these robots can correctly capture the exasperated sigh or the nodding of someone fighting a good nap. Seems like this is a lot of engineering to fix a problem that didn't really need a much better solution than what we already had in place. Now if they could create a hologram that would be helpful.
  • Anyone else think of big bang theory?

  • The future of hardware oriented garage startups is robotics. You know how Apple and Michael Dell etc. started out building computers .. well that's past. But it's still possible to build a physical product in your garage (besides software) .. and that's a robotic device.

  • Personally, I'd want my robot stand-in to look like Crow. But I could understand some people preferring to have a Dalek represent them.

  • We still dont have affordable video conference phones.

    How about creating a Video conference standard and forcing the world to adhere to it instead of the fragmented mess we have now?

  • The technology will likely be priced in the 'hundreds of dollars,' rather than the tens of thousands that the likes of Cisco and Polycom charge for high-end telepresence rooms.

    And that's because this is not a "high-end telepresence room"; it's a "low-cost camera and screen that swivels on a set of robotic shoulders, and sits at a meeting table with physical attendees." Apples and oranges.

  • From the article :

    Bouwen highlighted the value of a “turn-taking mechanism” that determines who should be next to speak.

    In person, two people who begin to speak to a group at the same time tend to take their cues from the direction in which most group members are looking.

    Those subtle cues are lost in current videoconferences, Bouwen said.

    Note the subtle shift from telepresence to videoconference. The whole point of telepresence is that these sorts of cues ("gaze awareness," in the industry) are

  • Just 2 or 3 fixed wide angle cameras in the conference room, automatic identification of speakers in the video, and text-only transcripts or video annotated with subtitle-like real time text for people who are just observing and don't have a headset. This is also an archive recording of the meeting. Robotic cameras in a conference room would just be a playful annoyance.
  • Will require a robot that can fall asleep.

The party adjourned to a hot tub, yes. Fully clothed, I might add. -- IBM employee, testifying in California State Supreme Court