Long-Distance Robots; 21st-Century Robotics; Exclusive Online Issues; by Mark Alpert; 2 Page(s)
A week after the World Trade Center disaster, I drove from New York City to Somerville, Mass., to visit the offices of iRobot, one of the country's leading robotics companies. I'd originally planned to fly there, but with the horrific terrorist attacks of September 11 fresh in my mind, I decided it would be prudent to rent a car. As I drove down the Massachusetts Turnpike, gazing at the American flags that hung from nearly every overpass, it seemed quite clear that traveling across the U.S., whether for business or for pleasure, would be more arduous and anxiety-provoking from now on. Coincidentally, this issue was related to the purpose of my trip: I was evaluating a new kind of robot that could allow a travelweary executive to visit any office in the world without ever leaving his or her own desk.
The technology is called telepresence, and it takes advantage of the vast information-carrying capacity of the Internet. A telepresence robot is typically equipped with a video camera, a microphone, and a wireless transmitter that enables it to send signals to an Internet connection. If a user at a remote location logs on to the right Web page, he or she can see what the robot sees and hear what the robot hears. What's more, the user can move the machine from place to place simply by clicking on the mouse. With the help of artificial-intelligence software and various sensors, telepresence robots can roam down hallways without bumping into walls and even climb flights of stairs.