The coming challenge of remote presence social norms as per MIT Tech Review

In the newest issue of the MIT Technology Review, Editor Tom Simonite demonstrates the use of the vGo from vGo Communications within the MIT Tech Review offices and discusses the coming need for new social skills for office dwellers that will engage with remote presence systems.

If these robots are to introduce an era of effortless interaction with machines, the changes may have to come from us, not them. “As these machines appear in the workplace, we will see completely new social norms forming around them,” says Takayama. We humans may have to learn to judge people represented by electronic bodies differently from those we can see in the flesh. (emphasis mine)

In the article, Simonite discusses the vGo (from his use of it in the Cambridge office), the Anybots QB and the Willow Garage Texai.

vGo at the Cambridge office of Technology Review

Photo credit: Brittany Sauser

What I noted were a couple of characteristics that were missing in the effective interaction between the pilot and the participants. Issues of:

  • height – note that everyone had to either stand away or bend down to speak to the pilot. In a hierarchical environment, the executive who may be piloting their RPS might feel diminished in this situation. While the conference room setting made sense in terms of height, roaming the halls gave the pilot a more diminutive feeling (my assumption).
  • speed of response – on the video, note the stopping motion the device performed when the pilot wanted to stop and speak to a person in the remote location. That abrupt transition is an initial good signally act, but a better one may be the system slows down and begins to turn toward the person of interest due to the dilation of the pilots pupils and the corresponding stopping/shift of attention.
  • network drops – instead of experiencing the network drop surprisingly, the RPS should either be warning of poor network coverage BEFORE getting in the bad situation, support an alternative connection (e.g.. like Anybots and Mantaro offer with a 4G connection) or some form of additional network service.
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