Exploring Telepresence


Telepresence is an emerging technology that may totally change our value towards time and space. It introduces an idea in designing computer user interface in a human natural way. The interface enables users to feel they are physically present in a distant site and to control remote objects to achieve user’s goals. Human is able to overcome distance, traveling time and adverse environment for completing remote tasks. Is this technology interesting? This article will bring you to explore the philosophy and application of telepresence.

How telepresence work?

In the past three decades, there are several researchers developed their model of telepresence. Although their focus and approach are various, the core is similar and can be abstract as in the following diagram:

Telepresence system is generally assembled by three sub-systems:

Home site equipment – It enables users being immerse in the remote site by Virtual Reality technology. Video, audio, haptic[1] and olfactory[2] display system, etc, construct remote environment for user. User perceives the remote environment and control remote objects by anthropometric system[3] to complete tasks.

Communication link – Wire or wireless communication link connects the Home site and Remote site equipment. Sufficient bandwidth and minimum latency[4] are preferred for better performance.

Remote site equipment – Corresponding sensory system perceives remote environment for the local virtual reality equipment. Robotic equipment executes operator’s instruction to complete task.

Telepresence - The infinite loop of perceiving and executing activity enables human operator to feel fully presenting in the remote site and to complete their tasks. As the idea is to operate by remote robots, the term Teleoperation and Telerobotics are highly related.

History of development

Early well-shaped idea of telepresence can be referred to the research in 1971 by Johnsen & Corliss who stated “Teleoperation system aids human operator in projecting his presence into remote workspaces through robotic equipment.” In this early stage, development of real application is rare due to limited computing power and multimedia technology.

The realization of the idea comes true in the 1980s by the NASA which kickoff the development of telerobotics in space fights and space exploration. As enhanced computing power and injection of fund by U.S. government, task specific telepresence application using in space came out.

After a decade in 1990s, several core theories and models in telepresence have developed. The most famous foundation theories can be referred to Sheridan’s and Schloerb’s Telepresence Model. Sheridan’s model defining telepresence is a user experience on actually presenting in the remote site and loses awareness of the local environment through the human natural computer interface. The breakthrough of a natural Human Computer Interaction (HCI) has been introduced. Schloerb’s model brings a more complete picture of telepresence by two concept, vividness and interactivity. Vividness is similar to Sheridan’s model based on the richness of sensory information for illusion of operator in remote site. Interactivity brings in the idea of the ability to influence the content of the remote environment. A task-orientated approach is important for the concept to doing things remotely.

Up to now, the literature in telepresence is still under development without a generic model. Yet, the innovation of telepresence application is proceeding thanks to advanced in robotic, multimedia and communication technology. The uses in various areas, for instance, remote medical consultation and surgery, boom disposal, operation in nuclear plant and other hazardous environment, etc, are developing. Although these applications are tasks specific, the author expects that more end-user products are coming up as commercialization of high-end technology is the golden rule.

Is telepresence meaningful to our life?

The most concerned question for us to think about a new technology should be how it will influence our lifestyle. The author found two reasons are most convincing.

Revolution of our thinking in time and space
The hesitation of completing a remote task would be distance, time
and cost of traveling as well as adverse environment on the transportation
and the remote site. Telepresence could resolve those problems. There
should be a revolution on our valuation of distance and time. For example,
adverse whether would not hesitate to work if telepresence system set up in
home. To have a gathering with overseas friends would not be hesitated by
the time and cost to travel. Our lifestyle will change.

New generation of Human Computer Interaction (HCI)

Telepresence introduced a breakthrough in the design philosophy of HCI. The current computer