Sunday, September 5

Remote Presence - after the novelty, effective presence happens.

Today's articles (both video and print) in the NYTimes presented a number of perspectives on remote presence. In the main article, Markoff does a great overview of the different plays within the remote presence space. As you can see in the video that accompanies it, the use of our remote presence system (RPS) at Mozilla demonstrates just one of a number of effective uses of an RPS.

In the Pogue and Bilton video as well as the Bilton post, however, the story of remote presence effectiveness seems lost while the novelty of the RPS roaming the halls is made primary - which loses the intent behind remote presence.

Framing the RPS in a different way

Imagine if you were a 7" tall individual, starting a job at a new office. Imagine the looks that people might given you as you appeared in the conference rooms, cafeteria or around the corner. Without an initial introduction, the surprise by coworkers is not at all surprising. Now, imagine if you suddenly walked around the corner and came face-to-face with this:

You too may have a strange reaction to a moving screen with someone's face on it.
Unless you were made aware of the system being around, you too would be surprised. But, as our field studies (and others) have shown, after a short time, people quickly get over the surprised and quickly become acclimated to the remote presence. Often, within an hour in a meeting, most people treat it as a surrogate of the person piloting the system, reacting to the new abilities (or handicaps) of the system. The sudden shock is quickly lost and the strengths and weaknesses of the system become apparent to everyone.

At Willow Garage, the focus has always been on creating a rich presence in a remote location - both for the pilot and for the participants (locals). As we drafted as part of our principles for remote presence, the treatment of the RPS is about treating the system as if it is the original person. The idea is not to treat the RPS as a piece of furniture, but to treat the pilot with the same level of respect while operating a RPS as you would if they were there in person.

As RPS becomes more visible in the workplace, new social norms will form - just as it did with texting, Blackberries, video conferencing. We are very social creatures and will eventually create the norms that will make the limitations of the technology fade away and create the rich communication experiences we desire.

Update: ever wonder how writers come up with story ideas? After the Big Bang Theory came out with the Shelbot, I remembered this lovely video of Sergey Brin using the Texai and it being called the BrinBot:

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