More Than Videoconferencing
Hewlett-Packard Labs research fellow Norm Jouppi is developing the Surrogate, a remote-controlled robotic technology designed as an alternative to videoconferencing that could have further applications outside a conference environment.
The six-foot-tall, 300-pound Surrogate is equipped with screens that display the remote user’s face, left and right profiles, and back of the head; speakers and microphones to project the user’s voice and capture conversations, respectively; and four wide-angle cameras to give the user a visual perspective of the local office. The Surrogate can adjust its height to that of the remote user so that local parties can maintain proper eye lines.
The device uses a Proxim 802.11a card to transmit four MPEG-2 video streams to the user, who sits in a 15-foot x 15-foot enclosure surrounded by screens displaying images of the conferencing environment captured by the Surrogate’s cameras.
The user can also employ a joystick to direct the Surrogate’s microphone to capture specific conversations while filtering out the others, which Jouppi terms the “cocktail effect.”
The current Surrogate model operates in a fixed position, but the next model, scheduled to be ready by fall 2005, will be mobile. Jouppi says the robot could also allow users to experience remote sites such as the Smithsonian without having to travel great distances, and even envisions a use for it on the International Space Station.
The HP research fellow reports that the Surrogate at one point was outfitted with a remotely controlled robotic arm and hand, but the concept was abandoned because the limb was too cumbersome to operate, and it also unnerved people.
Jouppi plans to modify the Surrogate even more dramatically: “By model 6, we could have an anthropomorphic robot with a holographic face of the remote user,” he boasts.
Abstracted by the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center(NLECTC) from the Network Magazine (11/03) Vol. 18, No. 11, P. 36; Greenfield, David.