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8 min read

Telepresence 101 - Learn the basics of Telepresence Robots

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Interested in how telepresence robots can work for you, but wondering what exactly they can be used for? Join us in 'Telepresence 101', where we cover what telepresence robots are, where they are being used, some top tips for things to look out for in a business-grade device, and finally, a few cases where they might not be the best fit.

 

What is a telepresence robot?

Telepresence robots transform how people connect from home to offices, businesses, health facilities and schools. Simply 'click and connect'; it's the next best thing to being there in person. The user experience is like playing a video game, except you are driving a real robot around at another location via remote control and at the same time participating in a two-way video call. People in your workplace, clinic or school can see and hear you just as clearly as if you were there. With self-pickup technology, the user does not need a pre-arranged meeting with someone else connecting at the other end. Simply dial in, and you're away!

We think of telepresence robotics as the next evolution in telecommunications. We had landlines, then mobile phones, video conferencing and 'face time'. Now telepresence robotics gets you off the wall or device and puts you in complete control to navigate a room as if you were present. You can avoid the hassle and expense of travel, have a telepresence robot at your warehouse or office across town, or across the world, and spend more time with your family. 

While we think of remote controlled telepresence robots as the next natural evolution of telecommunications in the workplace, it's important to note that telepresence robots have been around for many years, which has allowed the technology to develop into the reliable and safe workplace tool that it is today. Telepresence robots originally consisted of a wheeled base and a holder in which the user inserted their own iPad -- it was literally an iPad on a stick! You may have seen these on television shows like Modern Family or the Big Bang Theory. These days, the telepresence robots are fully integrated business-grade devices with obstacle avoidance technology and high-quality integrated video and audio.

 

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What are telepresence robots used for?

In recent years, most workplaces have embraced flexible, hybrid working arrangements and areas like telehealth and online learning have rapidly expanded. These transitions have not been entirely seamless, with some remote workers experiencing isolation, zoom fatigue and reduced productivity when working solo. By providing enhanced new communication tools to bring remote work team members together, telepresence robotics is perfectly positioned to fill some of the gaps that have appeared in workplace culture, team connectedness and individual productivity. Business grade devices such as the Double 3 and GoBe include embedded security features such as encryption, HTTPS management and password protection which protect corporate IT infrastructure.

Use cases of remote controlled telepresence robots include activities in just about any indoor social setting you can think of, but there are some areas where they particularly shine. They are the ultimate tool for remote workers and students to feel more connected to their colleagues by giving them a physical presence where they can't be in person. Telepresence robots offer a unique solution that is tailored to the specific needs of each industry.

Remote inspections and technical support

This application has been one of the key reasons for the uptake of telepresence robot technology in manufacturing and logistics. By having a robot on the warehouse floor, many tasks that previously required senior staff to travel can now be conducted remotely, including inspections, technical advice and troubleshooting, and security and management oversight.  Laptops and webcams don't work well on the warehouse floor. They require another person to carry them around, and they come with the telepresence robots' inherent audio and camera limitations. Telepresence robots offer a superior experience and get the job done with high clarity cameras with zoom functionality and higher quality mics and speakers, minimising production downtime. By utilising telepresence robots, companies can save both time and money when conducting inspections of new facilities or visiting certain locations where physical presence is needed.

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Conferences, events and training

Telepresence robots make attending event spaces an authentic experience for people who can't travel or have physical limitations. While conferences, events, and training can often be attended webinar-style or via a hd video conferencing app, anyone who has tried this will know the experience is somewhat isolating, more akin to watching a recording with only limited interpersonal interaction. The real value of these events usually comes in the catch ups and side conversations in breakout rooms, tea time, and meal breaks. Attending an event via a remote controlled telepresence robot allows remote user attendees give the user a physical presence to participate in meetings and workshops, as well as being able to drive around event spaces and be included in the side-discussions and breakout rooms that make these events really worthwhile.

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Telework and remote teams

Telework is the future of work! Flexible and remote work arrangements for office-based workers are now the norm, and teams can incorporate remote team members based at locations worldwide. For all its many benefits, this shift in work practice can dramatically affect workplace culture, resulting in empty desks in the corporate office. Managers face new challenges in creating a positive workplace culture and high performing team.

Telepresence robots can bring back office culture and innovation in the era of remote work, and re-inject some light-heartedness and fun back into the workplace. The best telepresence hardware to go beyond video conferencing and make remote work truly collaborative.By dialling in to a telepresence robot for part of the workday whilst working from home, the remote workers can maintain a connection with their office-based teams. Staff can simply walk up to the person on the telepresence robot and ask questions or get feedback ack they need it. share documents and images as if you were in the same room. The dialled-in remote workers enjoy a physical presence where they can't be in person, reducing the need for business travel. They can participate fully in meetings, keep track of office banter and 'water-cooler' conversations, or simply enjoy a lunch break with their team members. Business grade devices such as the Double 3 and GoBe include embedded security features such as encryption, HTTPS management and password protection which protect corporate IT infrastructure. With telepresence robots you can cut down on travel costs without sacrificing face time with clients or colleagues.

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Telehealth and aged care

During the pandemic, telehealth applications have exploded, connecting healthcare workers and families to places they were unable to attend in person. Infection control remains a key concern, and protecting clinical staff is a critical use case for telepresence robotics. However, there are other important applications, such as improving access to health services by allowing specialists to have a presence in rural and remote clinics. Even in urban areas, clinicians can be freed from wasting time stuck in traffic, and specialist medical support can be provided beyond tertiary hospitals. Telepresence robotics offers healthcare providers a means to  deliver lower-cost services and high-quality virtual care.

In aged care, use cases extend further to allowing instant life-like video conferencing 'visits' by family members who can't access the facility due to health concerns or living too far away. Telepresence robots can also provide improved in-home support for aged care and disability, providing a lifeline of care and support where resources are stretched.

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Education

Telepresence robotics in education enables inclusive experiences for students who can't attend school due to chronic health conditions, physical or mental health challenges, or simply distance and travel challenges. These telepresence robots can be invaluable in ensuring inclusive education opportunities can be provided for all children. TeleIn can tailor specialised education packages that meet the requirements of your corporate IT infrastructure.

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so what should I look for in my telepresence robot?

Buying a robot is like buying other tech gear – you will need to find the right compromise for your application, ensuring the telepresence robot is both fit for purpose and within your budget. While it may seem like a good idea to buy a cheaper piece of equipment, it is essential to do your homework beforehand to ensure you are getting ‘bang for your buck’ and the best investment for your business. Cutting corners on equipment usually costs more long-term with replacements (or upgrades) and costly repair services.

Of course, we can all agree that top quality hd video streaming, microphone and audio will be priorities in selecting the right telepresence equipment, but what are some other important things to look for when buying a new telepresence robot?

1. Meet eye to eye:

height adjustable telepresence robot


Importantly, you want to create the most natural interaction possible between the person controlling the robot and other people in the workplace. To achieve this, you will want a 'face sized' screen to clearly display the operator's face as if they were present. Some telepresence robots are designed to sit lower, at around 1 – 1.2 m high. This is because it is easier to create a lightweight but stable wheeled device with a lower centre of gravity. But if the telepresence robot is not height adjustable, the user may end up at an awkward belly- or chest height, and be looking up the noses of standing co-workers. The Double 3 telepresence robot team have combated the lightweight-but-stable issue by using a self-balancing "Segway" type wheeled base design. By also incorporating a telescopic height adjustable pole, users can be sure they will meet eye-to-eye when video conferencing with their co-workers in all their interactions.

 

2. Be safe in the workplace, clinic, or classroom:

Built in obstacle avoidance


Safety features of telepresence robots are definitely not created equal, and earlier versions of the technology were plagued by a tendency to crash into objects and walls. Maybe you remember your first robot vacuum falling down the stairs..! Fortunately, the technology has evolved, and telepresence robots such as the Double3 and GoBe Robot now include advanced sensor arrays with stereovision depth sensors and ultrasonic range finders and advanced software that ensures such accidents cannot happen.

The self-driving Double3 functionality will identify and drive around obstacles and automatically stop when it reaches a step it can't negotiate. The click-to-drive mixed reality user interface ensures ease of use of the telepresence robot, freeing the user to concentrate on the job at hand rather than needing to focus on driving the robot. Mixed Reality is like Augmented Reality, except virtual 3D objects are added into the video stream, and they look like they are placed in the real world. Driving down hallways and through narrow doorways is a breeze with automatic assisted driving correction.

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3. Get rolling, stay rolling:

ongoing tech support

The last important feature we want to point out is relevant to any technology used in your workplace. It needs to stay functional! If your computer breaks down you cant work until IT support gets it back online, right? Your telepresence robot will become just as integral a part of everyday operations as managers and staff become accustomed to completing interactive work tasks without the need for travel. Therefore, you need to have confidence that technical support is readily and rapidly available, and your telepresence robot can be repaired or replaced with same- or next-day turnaround if there is an issue. TeleIn is Australia's only telepresence robotics company with a local repair facility. We rarely need to send robots overseas (and, if we do, our supplier is based in the US). Simple repairs such as broken screens can be completed rapidly, with turnaround times mainly determined by logistics. If you are on a Robot as a Service (RaaS) plan, we will attempt to fix the issue remotely. If the issue can't be resolved remotely, we will send you a replacement telepresence robot immediately, so your downtime will be minimal.

Is there anything a telepresence robot cant do? 

Telepresence robots can be an amazing addition to your workplace, creating more functional productive workplaces and bringing some fun back to the culture of hybrid teams. But there are a few places where they don't work well or just can't go. The first is outdoors. If you have a good internet connection and solid surface there's no reason your robot wont work outside, but they aren't particularly designed for it. They don't work well on uneven surfaces, cant be driven on grass, and the wheels won't appreciate dirt. So ideally, keep your telepresence robot inside your warehouse, lab or office. Another place they won't work well is workplaces with many steps, stairs or closed doors. If your workplace is not wheelchair accessible, it won't be robot accessible either. 

Finally, the devices are wholly reliant on a strong internet connection.

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If you know of WiFi dead spots in your office, it might be a good idea to conduct an audit and remedy this, or perhaps prepare a WiFi hotspot map of your facility and mark out any no-go robot zones. 

 

In Summary

Telepresence robots are a versatile workplace tool with many benefits improving social connections and productivity. Telepresence robots offer a superior experience for both businesses and individuals. Unlike video conferencing, which locks you to your computer, telepresence robots let you roam around freely as you talk, and share documents and images as if you were in the same room. By allowing you to be present without being physically present, they improve communication and problem solving while saving time and money.

We hope this article has helped you understand the potential of telepresence !  Contact our team to organise how you can try this technology for your organisation.

 

    

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