“I was there” is a sentence that in the future might be synonymous with remotely watching, or being telepresent. When the “being there“ means attending scientific events aimed at increasing scientific cooperation with peers, can telepresence robots offer a valid surrogate to real presence? Is this virtual participation something more than watching? Does it allow people to interact?
This paper discusses these issues, reporting from three academic ACM conferences where some people remotely attended through telepresence robots; the number of remote attendees were 7, 19, and 33, and the number of robots were 6, 8, and 10, respectively, dedicated or shared. Data was obtained through individual interviews, post-conference questions, messages exchanged, and focus discussion groups.
The paper addresses three themes: shared versus dedicated robots, the presentation of one’s identity through a telerobot, and receiving social and technical support from real or virtual attendees. The authors observe a shift in user behavior from a sense of “being,” emerging in the smallest conference, to a more utilitarian usage, where people were interested in attending selected presentations rather than socializing. The latter was evident in the conference with a few thousand participants, who apparently used telepresence robots as online streaming.
Due to limited data, the authors cannot state any final conclusion, but suggest future work on telepresence robots that considers both number of people and sharing policies.
This narrative paper reports many original ideas, but no statistical analysis. It may be of interest to researchers in social robotics as well as to people working in social data analysis.