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What is a Telepresence Robot and What Can They Do?
The idea of telepresence appeared tens or maybe thousands years ago, but commercial implementing it gained only after wide spreading of internet, not expensive computers and manufacturing technologies. By now there are developed more than 30 modifications of such robots, but really in demand and actively sold just a few of them.
It is very difficult to get used to the idea of telepresence, like to all unusual and not widespread in the community. The main part of consumers regard such robots like toy. However, worldwide, it has already sold about 15 thousand such robots, that really helps companies in resolving of the issues mentioned below and provides a huge economic impact with payback in a few months. In picture below you can see the telepresence robots market grow.
From website "tractica.com".
Telepresence Robot for Remote Work
At present, about 15,000 remote workers in the World are at workplace virtually, using telepresence robots. Below we describe some application scenarios of such robots and technical details.
Remote operation using telepresence is the main application of this type of robots. Two scenarios are most demanded by the market:
Meeting in a small company using BotEyes telepresence robot
Application of Telepresence Robots by Remote Workers
Remote work can be reasonable used in the following cases:
Here are More Specific Case Studies
Suppose you are a programmer of a CNC machine, working at home. Before milling the part, usually first they track the trajectory of the cutter visually, "by air", before putting the workpiece on the machine. If you work at home, with the help of a robot you can remotely view the trajectory of the cutter before installing the parts and then during the milling process, even if the machine is located in China, and you are in San Jose. The telepresence robot wheels allow you to drive up to the machine and consider the process from the desired angle.
Remote client looks at CNC machine in action
Similarly, you can see how the installer soldered your PCB, how the part was cut out on a CNC laser machine, what tooling and fixtures the assembler uses in the manufacture of the product according to your project.
PCB designer looks at the board after components mounting
You ordered the injection mold in other city, put it in an molding machine, which is located in China and cast detail. The item turned out to be defective. If you have a telepresence robot, the mold developer can remotely determine the nature of the defect, look at the instrument panel of molding machine, remotely perform (with your help) selection of more appropriate modes or make changes to the size and location of the tunnels by redesigning the mold.
Suppose you are a home worker programmer in a team working on a shared project. Every day there are meetings you must attend, the team members gives the ideas that require discussion during work day.
If your telepresence robot is turned on constantly and the image from its camera is displayed through the HDMI interface on your home TV, then you have a full feeling that you are sitting in the same room with the rest of the programmers, hear replicas concerning everyone and can drive "on the robot" to anyone and discuss the subtleties in the project. Your face is always visible on the robot monitor. During the meeting you see not only the one who speaks, but also the expression of the face of the rest of the audience, their facial expressions, hear their statements.
Further, in such events they usually use a board on which paint chalk schemes, diagrams, charts, etc. The robot allows you to turn to the board, drive closer, if you need to consider something in close distance. The effect of full presence is created, which is not reproduced by fixed monitors of traditional video conference.
Application of the Robots by Managers
The managers need telepresence robot in the following cases:
Telepresence Robots for Manufacturing
Modern production is very often separated geographically from the company-developer of the product. For example, the world's most powerful microprocessors are developed in Silicon Valley and manufactured in Taiwan. The computers are developed in Cupertino, and manufactured at the Faxconn factory in China, which also carries out orders for other developers from around the world.
Smaller companies and startups often do not have their own production equipment (in the semiconductor industry they are called "Fabless" companies), they are engaged in development only, and order the production at factories that have the necessary production lines.
Electrical cabinet chief designer looks at the assembly process
Many companies have several offices located in different parts of the city or in different cities and countries.
In all the cases, there is active audio and video communication between the customer and the manufacturer or between the branches of the same company, as well as numerous trips (business trips). Usually, the customer goes to the manufacturer, but in most cases, all issues can be solved remotely, using telepresence robots.
How the Robot Solves this Problem
Here are some examples:
Remote client looks at the contractor warehouse
The office of the company was located on Zoe Street, and the production was located at the factory, which was placed on Descent street, near the sea. It's almost on the other side of town. All the developers were sitting in the office, the documentation was submitted to the factory and the assembly of products was performed there too. The company made incubators for breeding of chickens. The business profitability was very low, there was the necessity to take care of it.
To do this, we installed a telepresence robot at the factory and for several days the incubator designer connected to the robot, drove to the assembly place, drove up to each worker, recorded the time of each operation, compared it with others, and compiled the table to identify the most expensive operation. It turned out that such an operation is the installation of a heating element, which required the preparation of springs, the bindings of the springs, wires and others.
To reduce the mounting complexity, a separate stand was developed for pre-preparation of the entire unit, including the heating element. Engines were installed in the stand, and work was automated using a PLC.
The work on the analysis of labor cost with the help of the telepresence robot was repeated many times. As a result, the cost of manual labor was decreased by 2.8 times. It needs to stress that the technologist did not need to go to the assembly site at all. Moreover, he combined the monitoring process with the his main work in the office, without wasting extra time.
How looks the plastic case after molding?
Telepresence Robots for Education
Schoolchildren and students get sick, like all people. But the peculiarity of this case is that skipping classes can significantly affect academic performance and even the ability to continue studying, since the duration of recovery from illness can be weeks or months. There are also sports injuries that require long-term rehabilitation. Of course, you can hire a personal teacher, take a sabbatical, ask to postpone the date of exams, catch up in the summer. That's what they used to do before telepresence robots came along.
There is also another category of students who cannot attend regular educational institutions. These are, for example, people with heart disease or poor immunity, with blood clotting disorders, as well as with disabilities. They cannot attend regular educational institutions and must study from the comfort of their homes. The list of diseases, the presence of which gives the right to study at home, contains about 60 items.
There are also situations when a person is healthy, but lives in another city or in a remote village, from where it is impossible to get to the place of study due to weather conditions or lack of transport.
In all the cases described, the problem occurs: how to participate in the learning process without leaving your home or hospital.
The problem is solved with the help of a telepresence robot. A student at home can connect to the robot at school. After that, the robot becomes his "avatar", which can be present at the lesson, listen and take notes of lectures, look at experiments in chemistry and physics lessons, answer questions from the teacher, and perform tests. The student can take photos of written works and immediately send them to the teacher for checking.
During recess, such an "avatar" can move along the corridor, drive up to friends, communicate with them using eye contact. The possibility of real communication supports the morale of the remote student, he/she does not feel social isolation. Moreover, he/she feels like a hero because not everyone in the class has their own avatar.
The telepresence robot differs from the usual video communication by the presence of wheels, i.e. the ability to move. This allows the student to move from class to class, change the angle at which he sees the board and the teacher, choose a suitable place in the classroom, "look into the eyes" of students and the teacher.
Robot control is easily mastered by children because all of them know how to play computer games and robot control differ from them very slightly.
Remote learning using robots has found widespread use in the United States. Many stories related to remote learning can be found on the Internet, we will give only a few links: First Link and Second Link
The New Problems
The use of the robot in school is associated with several problems.
First of all, schools rarely have good Wi-Fi. Therefore, video communication may be interrupted or be at a low resolution.
In order to clearly see everything that is written in chalk on the board, you need to put the robot close to the board or use a camera with magnification or with an additional, mounted, lens that is attached to the tablet. The magnification of the lens is selected so that the board occupies the entire screen of the monitor that the student is looking at.
If the school has high door steps, then the robot will have to be carried through them. BotEyes robot can overcome the threshold of no more than 1.5 cm height, many other robots do not overcome even such obstacles.
Maintenance of the robot is reduced to turning it on and off with one button and several actions with the tablet, as well as connecting to WiFi (this is done once, during the initial installation). However, it is desirable that someone digs into the nuances of operation, can solve possible problems, and make sure that the robot is always charged.
Telepresence Robots for Security Systems
No matter how you place surveillance cameras, there will always be "dead zones", for example, closed by large objects, corners of walls, a place behind the camera. In addition, cameras do not allow you to change the magnification (zoom) and therefore you can not see the subject at close range. For example, you will not see if there is water on the floor, if the door is slightly opened, if the door handle is turned carefully, or if a rat is running around the room. In addition, the required Internet bandwidth used by cameras is directly proportional to their number.
Unlike cameras, the telepresence robot can drive up to any place you are interested in and view everything from a close distance. For it, there are no "dead zones" and the Internet channel bandwidth for video transmission is exactly the same as for a single video surveillance camera.
Telepresence robots can be used in some others application like this:
The Essence of Telepresence and Alternatives
In most cases, the ideal option for remote execution of the work described above would be to use an avatar, just like in the James Cameron's movie "Avatar". The avatar must always be at the manufacturer's company in a "sleeping state", and if necessary, a person connects to it via the Internet and begins to cruise around the company, communicate with employees, study the state of production, analyze the quality of order fulfillment, etc.
Currently, the production of an avatar that has hands with a high degree of dexterity, can walk on stairs and move like a person, is imposiible not only on scientific and technical problems, but also on a very high cost, which makes its use unprofitable.
The current level of technology development has made it cost-effective to use only a simplified version of the avatar, which does not have arms and legs, but can communicate (see and speak), as well as move in any direction. Such a simplified avatar is called a telepresence robot. The profitability of such robots is extremely high, since their cost is approximately equal to the cost of one or two business trips.
The following alternatives are available for implementing remote presence:
In robot computers sometimes they install additional software (like face recognition, text-to-speech, chat-bot), but these functions are not directly related to the telepresence and can be installed in a tablet of any robot.