Blog Post

Web Work Sci-Fi: Floating Avatars for Telecommuters

Here on WebWorkerDaily we regularly cover new tech that can help you collaborate remotely from virtual phone systems to multiuser video chat apps. All of these offer incremental improvements on the tech available to web workers, but what about the distant future of remote collaboration? What radical new tech tools might remake the way we work virtually?

Scientists are hard at work on the question, allowing their big brains to run wild and come up with out-of-the-box offerings for the web worker of the future … and they’re dreaming of robots.

California company Anybots, for example, has designed an adorable robot avatar that you control from home while it rambles around the office displaying a video of your face, interacting with co-workers. You’d better hope your corporate headquarters doesn’t have any stairs though, as the Anybot is unable to handle them.

But scientists at Tokyo’s Sony Computer Science Laboratories (s sne) have come up with an innovative solution to deal with this so-called “Dalek problem” of maneuvering up and down stairs – a floating robot avatar head. They report:

We developed a floating avatar system that integrates a blimp with a virtual avatar to create a unique telepresence system. Our blimp works as an avatar and contains several pieces of equipment, including a projector and a speaker as the output functions. Users can communicate with others by transmitting their facial image through the projector and voice through the speaker. A camera and microphone attached to the blimp provide the input function and support the user’s manipulation from a distance. The user’s presence is dramatically enhanced compared to using conventional virtual avatars (e.g., CG and images) because the avatar is a physical object that can move freely in the real world.

Having trouble imagining what on earth this floating avatar could look like? Check out this New Scientist video:

How does the idea of your boss’s virtual head floating around the office strike you – Creepy? Cool? A little of both?

Image courtesy of Flickr user misocrazy

3 Responses to “Web Work Sci-Fi: Floating Avatars for Telecommuters”

  1. Am I the only one who just shakes their head in bewilderment at ideas like this? Have we become so detached from real relationships with real people that something like this would actually be a benefit? Rather than asking, “How can be produce an artificial presence of a real person?”, perhaps we need to be asking some serious questions about how we have reduced how we view people to the point that something like this could actually serve a purpose.

    I have taken a peek over the edge of the cliff and I don’t like what I see. I find myself pushing away technology and reverting to “old school” tools like 3×5 cards and fountain pens. Technology is a tool for us to use – it is not something that we should ever let shape us.

  2. Not too keen on the Sony app since the blimp technology is only good in low-light conditions. And unless you plan on having your staff have the lights turned down so that the lumens on the blimp actually can show your face, then you will only see a blimp with a disembodied voice speaking. Kind of creepy if you ask me…

    • Agreed it’s a bit creepy, especially the way it floats around. I’m not sure that there’s much chance of ever seeing something like this in most workplaces — it’s more a proof of concept. It’s interesting to see these slightly “out there” uses of technology, though, because they may give us a few hints about where we might head in the future.