First there were meetings, and the meetings were good, and everyone made a point of getting to those meetings because they valued the camaraderie and the free brownies. Then travel became a hassle and technology evolved enough so that people could teleconference in. While teleconferencing is a good thing, it’s just not the same as being there. People ignore you like commercials on television. You may be there, but you’re just another screen in the room. But now there’s more technology to the rescue. The next best thing to being there is a Nethead. So what exactly is this Nethead of which we speak? It is a “telepresence robot,” a device with a rotating head and possibly even sporting the face of the person it represents. The Nethead, under development by Bell Labs, sits on a stand in the meeting room to remind everyone of its presence even though it represents a sort of absence. It can be remotely controlled to swivel its head just like someone in the meeting.
Netheads are just the latest in a series of adventures in robotics. In case you missed it, last year there was Aimec, or Artificially Intelligent Mechanical Electronic Companion. The four feet tall Aimec which sports an eye and travels around on wheels, was programmed to snore while it sleeps and to stretch when it wakes up. No word on its morning breath issues, however. It also recognizes voices, speaks like C-3PO and can interact with your appliances. Haven’t you always wanted to chat with your refrigerator? Meanwhile, other scientists are also developing “robot skin,” which is really a collection of sensors that allow the robot to “feel” warmth or a breeze. Such a touch feely robot can be as useful as drones in war zones or nuclear plants perhaps. In any case, fear not. The robots are here to help us not replace us.