Porta-Person Remote Conferencing Stand-In

The porta-person may be part of the answer for people who spend a lot of time working remotely. The porta-person is Sun Microsystem's response to the problem of helping people who telecommute or who must attend meetings from a different location.


(Porta-Person teleconferencing technology)

The porta-person prototype is essentially a box that can "sit" at your place at a conference table. If you have a video link, your picture can appear on its screen. If you don't have enough bandwidth to present your own face, the porta-person can show a cartoon face. As you speak, the lips of the cartoon character synch with your own.

Microphones and state-of-the-art audio systems let the remote participant hear the general direction from which sounds come. The porta-person can also be swiveled to face a particular person, or part of the room. The remote participant can view a selection of images showing conference attendees as well as presentations.

"We are trying to give those remote people a real tangible presence in the meeting room," says Nicole Yankelovich, a principal investigator at Sun who led development of the porta-person as an as-yet-unpublished outgrowth of the company's collaborative-environments research. Otherwise, "people are second-class citizens; they get forgotten about."

Sun is, of course, not alone in developing options for the remote teleconferecer. The award-winning Pebbles teleconferencing robot allows sick children to not only attend classes, but actually move through the halls, piloting the Pebbles robot remotely.

These devices remind me of an early science-fictional precursor - the "Arr-two" remote-control robots used in the 1981 novel Oath of Fealty by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. In the novel, Chief Engineer Tony Rand needed to be several places at once in an enormous construction site:

He had to follow the minutiae, because he didn't know what would turn out to be vital.

That led to his development of robot probes; small devices with cameras and sound equipment which could move freely through Todos Santos under Rand's direct control.
(Read more about Niven and Pournelle's Arr-two robot probes)

Story via MIT Technology Review; read more about the Pebbles robot.

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