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Courtesy photo
A VGo robot.
Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Nashua telepresence robot maker Vgo featured in New Scientist magazine

I have written several times over the years about Vgo, the Nashua telepresence firm that makes a robot which is like a wireless Skype connection atop a remote-controlled Roomba. It allows the person at the other end of the connection to move around within the environment, not just stare out of a motionless laptop. (My most recent story is here.)

So I was surprised to see a picture of one of their robots in the latest issue (10 November) of New Scientist, the well-known British popular science weekly. They're in an article about the future of remote presence technologies, titled "Body Down a Wire". The narrative is built around a New York boy with allergies that keeps him from school who uses a Vgo to be "virtually present" in class,

He joins surgeons, soldiers, and an increasing number of other workers who are turning to an army of surrogates often hundreds of kilometers away. (Not "miles" - this is a British magazine!)

It talks about Vgo and a competitor, California-based Anybots as examples, and notes (ominously for Vgo) that a Florida firm called Double Robots is trying to develop a very-low-cost version built around an iPad.

Most of the article isn't about the technical details of first-generation remote-presence technology, though; it deals with the legal, economic and even moral complications of doing something here when you're over there. The question of deception, for example (is it really you controlling that robotic you?) as well as discplaced employees.

"I'd be very surprised if in 10 years 10 perc cent of (retail work) wasn't being performed by remote workers. From a technical and economic perspectibe, it looks pretty inevitable," sadi Matt beane of the MIT Sloan School of Management.

Here's the article, but you can only read it if you're a subscriber.