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.
Jimmy Loizeau and James Auger, who’s work I first encountered in their isophone project at the Media Lab Europe, play with some really fun concepts in their Social Tele–presence project. Telepresence is the use of technology to enable a sense of ‘being there’ for someone in a remote location. It’s an idea that the corporate world has toyed with for a decade or so with little success. The face-to-face meeting still dominates trust and relationship building in that domain.
The telepresence scenarios that Loizeau and Auger imagine are social systems – explored through a combination of working prototypes and designed futures, an approach that has become one of the trademarks of the Design Interactions course at the RCA in recent years. In the project, actors can be sent to explore socially awkward situations on a customer’s behalf (their example is a politician taking a Strange Days-esque teleprescence trip to a red light district). They also show tests of a dog-mounted system that carrys a camera and binaural microphone with two axes of rotation. The practicalities of motion sickness from a dog mounted VR-headset aside for now, the use of animals as a means of adding complex mobility in place of robotic mounts is a concept that has intereed me for some time. More on this at a later date.