Well, rarely does a day go by that I don’t get to see or hear something that makes me say “Wow, what an interesting idea…”
For example, I just received the following email from a reader who prefers to remain anonymous (unless you have a lot of money and wish to translate this into a business opportunity, in which case the reader says that you can contact him through me).
Anyway, this message was as follows:
Hi Max, I have a wacky idea for a business model I want to get out in the open before someone patents it: Rentable Avatars!
Here's how it works: Suppose I want to attend a seminar in Nottingham. My boss won't spring for airfare or hotel, so I get online to an agency in Nottingham who, for say 175 GBP a day, will rent me an avatar.
On the appointed day, they deliver the avatar (or send it in a cab) to the conference venue, whereupon it will link itself to the local WiFi and connect to my computer, so I can "occupy" it remotely and attend the classes. It could display a simulated face resembling mine, and have the ability to "raise a hand" either figuratively or literally. At night it would be parked in a restricted area (maybe getting itself a charge) so I couldn't wander around with it. No cost for travel, hotel, or meals.
I've already seen these things -- basically a camera, mike, speaker, and video screen on a pole with wheels. This would have to be a bit more sophisticated. Because of delays and dropouts in communications, it would have to have enough autonomy to:
Avoid bumping into people, walls, or other objects
Avoid falling down stairs or tripping over rugs, etc.
Navigate corridors and possibly elevators based on instructions.
Get help (verbal directions?) if it is lost and can't communicate.
Record what goes on in my absence for playback when the communication resumes.
Given Google's work with autonomous cars, and Apple's with Siri, I wouldn't expect this to be a problem.
A backup 3/4G link in case there isn't WiFi would be nice. Some limited manipulative ability might be useful. The deluxe model could have legs or other means to traverse stairs or rough terrain, so it could be used for inspection and repair jobs.
We already have a lot of good videoconferencing systems, but sometimes you need more mobility or interactivity than those allow. This would allow me to look at what I want, talk to who I want, and maybe even buy someone a beer.
I hereby release this method under the GNU General Public License, Version 3. There's probably a better form of license – if I find one I'll use it instead. If you want to print this idea or pass it along to someone who might try to implement it, that would be great.
Actually, this is a pretty good idea when you come to think about it. I can imagine sitting in the comfort of my office wearing a virtual headset seeing what my avatar sees as it wanders around the Design Automation Conference (DAC), for example. One day I could be attending a conference in America, the next day a seminar in Germany, and the next a trade show in Japan.
Note that this reader is proposing a business idea – he’s not suggesting that it’s up to him to create the underlying technology. This is a good thing, because the technology itself is almost here. Check out This Article that discussed the Telesar V robot avatar that is being developed by the folks at Keio University in Tokyo, and here’s an associated video:
This is similar in concept to the Anybots QB Telepresence Robot (as shown in the following video) that is already shipping:
On the one hand, the Telesar V appears to be much more sophisticated; on the other hand, the Anybots QB Telepresence Robot looks to be a lot of fun and is much more affordable (a snip at only $15,000).
Of course this reminds me of that really funny video Do You Wanna Date My Avatar?:
Last but certainly not least, do I really have to remind you that everyone laughed when I talked about the forthcoming Robot Apocalypse? (See my Review of Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson.) Well, all I can say is that we’ll see who is still laughing when the powerful fingers of Telesar V’s great-grandson-bot (remembering that robot generations are measured in a couple of years) closes around your scrawny neck (cue sound effects of mad cackling)…
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I'm working from home myself as we speak (looking after my wife who is recovering from an operation) -- I hadn't even thought about this, but having a VGo in my office while I'm here (or here while I'm in my office) would be GREAT.
In the latter case I would know when my son got home from school, and he could tell me if he wanted me to pick anything up from the store...
I think these could be a lot more useful than I first supposed...
Sorry, Max reminded me that I forgot the disclosure: I actually work for VGo (Software Architect/Lead Developer). But I do actually eat my own dog food and work from home 2 days a week. My VGo sits outside of my cube on its charger, and I try to stay in a call for most of the day with my audio/video muted for my own privacy. If anybody needs me, they just walk up to it and say "Hey Jeff, are you there?" Then I just un-mute and can follow them to their cube or a conference room. If I need to talk to somebody, I don't need to hope they're paying attention to their IM/email or even at their desk. I can just drive around looking for them.
p.s. Max, you can always contact our sales/marketing to see if you could get a unit for review (but being in Engineering, I couldn't say one way or the other ;-)
Very tasty -- but how do we know that it's you posting this and not your VGo?
For all we know your VGo has you tied up in the chair with a gag around your mouth, and it's now sending messages out to everyone it can to get it's cousins placed in all our homes :-)
Seriously, I would love to play with one of these little rascals :-)
There's also VGo, at under $6,000. I'm using a VGo to work from home right now!
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