May 24, 2016      

The animatronics at Disney parks have been lip-synching to music for decades, but telepresence robots are offering new capabilities beyond remote-controlled entertainment.

Telepresence is allowing workers to attend multiple meetings, homebound students to participate in classes, and doctors to visit patients in remote hospital wards.

For instance, Audi is using VGo from Vecna Technologies to link its dealers and mechanics. Advanced telepresence will find an even wider range of applications, predict research analysts at Portland, Ore.-based Big Market Research. In the “Telepresence Robots Industry” report, they gauge the market size, shares, demand, and opportunities.

The global market could be worth as much as $7 billion by 2020, and market watchers have listed several innovators to watch in 2016, including the following:

Disney flaunts haptic telepresence robots

Disney Research has developed a telepresence robot that uses hydrostatic transmission and haptic feedback to be both more responsive to the operator and safer for people around it.

Disney said its configuration uses air and water and is analogous to N+1 cable-tendon transmissions. It would use N hydraulic lines paired with one pneumatic line for its new machine, which then has N degrees of freedom.

In addition, stereo cameras and “bilateral coupling of the low-impedance hydrostatic transmission” provide “immersion” for the remote operator, according to Disney. This specially designed transmission enables the operator to pick up the interactions between the machine and environment the robot operates in.

CARE Network proves worth with LiveHome customers

Telemedicine conferences are also encouraging the launch of software platforms for seniors. Acacia Living’s CARE Network recently announced a successful pilot of Kubi at the American Telemedicine Association’s Annual Conference.

Kubi is a telepresence robot created by San Francisco-based Revolve Robotics. The Kubi includes a senior-friendly tablet mounted on a base that a care provider can adjust remotely during video calls. It can enable a care provider to more effectively make assessments and provide assistance by remaining face to face with a customer or patient even as he or she moves around a room.

“Kubi’s ability to allow the care managers to look around provides them with a more holistic virtual home visit,” explained Rob Rossi, founder and executive vice president of CARE Network. “Virtual visits can literally save lives, reduce hospital visits, lower costs, and improve patient well-being. It’s rare to get more timely and effective at the same time.”

Beam, Kubi help students remotely attend classes

Seventh grader Naya Salah was diagnosed with leukemia in January, but the parents of a classmate helped her to continue attending school. Brad Sandman and Tanya Jenkins asked their employer, Suitable Technologies Inc. in Palo Alto, Calif., to provide the Beam telepresence robot.

Salah is attending the rest of her school year using videoconferencing equipment that she can operate remotely with both phone and computer.

Telepresence robots can enable interaction as well as observation at all levels of education, according to recent studies. Robotics and mobile technology can grow to meet demand for communications, although they need to show value beyond what platforms such as Skype can provide.

Revolve Robotics’ Kubi is helping K-12 classrooms avoid disruption from new students and enabling rural students to interact regularly and directly with teachers.

Educators, institutions, and students are exploring different ways to remotely see and communicate face to face with their colleagues, staffs, and peers using Kubi and other telepresence robots.

Teleconference robots make meetings accessible

Attendees at last year’s Educause Learning Initiative in Anaheim, Calif., were surprised to find robots among them. People used Suitable Technologies’ BeamPro to virtually participate in sessions and attend group discussions.

The telepresence robots had small screens stationed atop handles fixed to mobile bases. Remote users could control the BeamPro robots and easily converse with other attendees.

Many people tried out BeamPro over the three-day event to see if they could perform things an on-site attendee would do.

Personalizing robots in service sector

Suitable Technologies opened its first retail store in 2014. It was completely staffed by Beam telepresence robots and was a big hit with customers. In addition, Orchard Supply Hardware in San Jose, Calif., has introduced OSHbot, a semi-autonomous machine created by Fellow Robots Inc. OSHbot comes with image and voice recognition that helps it guide users through aisles and look for products they want to buy.

Experts at Barcelona, Spain-based PAL Robotics SL have been experimenting with bipedal unit named REEM-C. Some market watchers have said that it could be a good replacement for Honda’s ASIMO.

Finally, telepresence robots are invading abodes in South Korea. Future Robot made headlines when it unveiled FURo-i at the Consumer Electronics Show in 2015. This machine was built to maintain homes while the occupants were away and to chat with friends.

Big Market Research has gathered these and other recent discoveries in its study titled “Global Telepresence Robots Industry 2015 Deep Market Research Report.” The report is intended to help business owners explore the opportunities and understand growth prospects of this robotics segment.

About the author:

Pranjal Mehta is senior digital marketing engineer at Big Market Research.