PEBBLES Robot - Teleconferencing For Kids At NextFest 2006

The PEBBLES teleconferencing robot from Telbotics is designed to help kids faced with long hospital stays, or who must attend distant schools. PEBBLES, which stands for Providing Education by Bringing Learning Environments to Students, is described by Telbotics as the world's first fully functioning telepresence application. PEBBLES is being shown off at Wired's NextFest 2006 exhibition at the Javits Center in NYC this weekend.


(PEBBLES teleconferencing robot from Telbotics at NextFest)

PEBBLES consists of two units. The first sits in the child's hospital room (or home bedroom); it's camera takes video of the child. It also has a video game controller. This unit is connected to the teleconferencing robot pictured above.

The child's picture appears on the screen; the camera in the 'head' of the robot sends back a video stream of the classroom or hallway. Between classes, the child uses the video game controller to maneuver the robot to its next destination.

The creators of PEBBLES received a da Vinci award at the Ritz Carlton in Dearborn, Michigan yesterday. The da Vinci Awards recognize the most innovative developments and research in adaptive and assistive technology.

I'm sure there were earlier examples of telepresence robots in science fiction, but the one that strikes me is the robot that chief engineer Tony Rand uses in Oath of Fealty, a 1981 Pournelle and Niven novel. He uses it to get around in the vast arcology that forms the central stage for the novel. The story also features a telepresence bulldozer - the driver works on Earth and the 'dozer performs useful work on the Moon.

(Update 19-Nov-2006: See also the Robot Probes (Arr-twos), also from Niven and Pournelle's Oath of Fealty.)

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