Using PRoPs for presence

Published in 2000, The Robot in the Garden, is a collection of essays edited by Ken Goldberg on telerobotics and telepistemology – ‘the study of knowledge acquired at a distance’. While many of the texts feel a little taken by the novelty of the internet, it remains a succinct review of foundations in the field.

In their chapter, John Canny and Eric Paulos describe PRoPs – Personal Roving Presence devices which allow them to explore to what extent manifestations of computer mediated presence can be effective in placing distant participants into the social and physical context of a space.

PRoPs need not be realistic portraits of humans because our motor-intentional behaviors are flexible. Our PRoPs are cubist statues, with rearrangements of face and arms, and separation of eyes from gaze … dictated by function and engineering constraint.

Their devices are relatively simple – a conferencing system mounted at eye level on a roomba type device or a helium filled blimp that can navigate a space – but allowed for social experiments into the psychology of interactions mediated through mechanically extended body. Canny and Paulos have long since moved on to many other projects, but their research approach remains a pertinent and valid one.

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