Breaking the Geo-Spatial Barriers - How Telepresence Devices are Changing the Rules of Business

Harsha Kikkeri, Director of Advanced Dev, Suitable Tech.
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Imagine you are the VP of a successful tech company. You wake up in the morning in Maui, Hawaii. The sun is shining brightly and the seas are inviting. So you go out swimming in the ocean, enjoying the warm waters and beautiful coral reefs. You come home and at the click of a button, instantly teleport to your  company’s headquarters in New York, NY. 

 “All you need to use these devices one your end is a mobile phone, tablet or a PC and access to internet” 

After attending a board meeting and discussing business plans, you realize that there is a product launch scheduled in Barcelona, Spain. You instantly beam into the Mobile World Congress conference and talk with potential customers to get a feel for how the product is being perceived. As sunset approaches, you go for a quick surf back in Hawaii. With your mind refreshed, you head down to Singapore to inspect a brand new manufacturing line which is going online next week. In a single day, you have travelled all around the world, while enjoying the warm weather in Hawaii.  

Science Fiction? Perhaps, but more like a vision of the future. Thousands of people around the world in companies like Google, Microsoft and Accenture are already living this dream. They are able to make use of the advances in telepresence devices to completely eliminate the need for travel.  Breaking the geospatial link between their home and office allows them to enjoy life to the fullest, while saving the environment and dramatically slashing costs. It also allows companies to find and hire the best talent in the world, without having to worry about relocating them and their families. These devices are are not automatons designed to eliminate jobs. Instead, they are empowering employees to break the barriers of space, geography and national boundaries - allowing employees to be where they are needed, regardless of wherever they are at present time.  

All that is needed  to use these devices on the remote end is a mobile phone, tablet or a computer (Mac or PC) and access to internet. The tele presence system is in the company HQ, factory floor, conference, etc. As broadband becomes ubiquitous, these cloud powered telepresence devices/ are becoming easier and more affordable to integrate into work environments.  And it doesn’t stop there. Set up a telepresence system at home and you can now beam back from a business trip in California to your child’s birthday party in Hawaii. You are no longer torn between having to constantly balance work and family. With the help of these telepresence devices you can easily weave these two threads of work and family seamlessly together.  

How do tele presence devices work? 

A simplified way of looking at these devices is to consider them as skype on wheels.Just like you can use an app on your mobile phone or tablet or computer to make a skype call, you can use an app to make a telepresence call. The telepresence device can be setup to accept calls from some people automatically - say the VP of the company. Others (for example visitors) would need someone next to the device to accept the call - something as simple as  shaking the device. Once the call is completed, your face appears on the telepresence device and voila, you are there!  

You can control the movement of device using your keyboard arrow keys, mouse or even touch pad. Also many of these devices have wide angle field of views - the same range as human eyes and multiple microphones for picking up the tiniest of sounds and cancelling echoes. This provides a significantly richer experience than traditional video conferencing. Also video conferencing has no concept of personal space and personal communication. Only one person in the room can talk. However, with telepresence devices, it is just like having everyone locally. Each person gets his/her own device and can engage in one-on-one conversations. Moreover, the conversations can continue as the meeting ends and people start leaving the room. You can follow your colleagues to the water cooler or their office for a private chat!  

How is it going to change my business? 

Slowly, but surely, all information and communication is getting digitized. The only non-digital is our physical body. Telepresence devices are changing that and digitizing our bodies. For most business activities, we use our eyes, ears, legs and mouth. These have all  been digitized.  You are not looking at your screen, you are looking through your screen to the other side. To give some examples of businesses that are getting disrupted: 

  1. Hospitality: When there is no need to travel, why would someone book a hotel? There will be a significant dip in the amount of business travel in the near future so what can hotels do? They can change their business model and instead of fighting the technology, they can embrace it. They can rent telepresence devices for people wishing to attend conferences in their hotel, but don’t want to physically travel. 
     
  2. Human Resources: Telepresence devices are a boon to human resource professionals. Traditionally, they had to fight for a small pool of local talent. Also HR would lose valuable talent when people decided to move to other locations - for family or other needs. However, with Telepresence devices, HR can finally get the best of both worlds. They can recruit the best talent from anywhere in the world and they don’t have to worry about relocating them or losing them when they decide to move to a different place. 
     
  3. Manufacturing: Inspecting manufacturing facilities and supply lines will be done remotely avoiding expensive overseas travel. This allows the supply chain executives to choose the best vendor for the specific job and avoid costly mistakes. Also there can be ongoing regular remote inspection of facilities looking for potential concerns and preventing them from escalating into major issues. 
     
  4. Education: Telepresence devices allow students to take the best classes anywhere in the world, without worrying about visa restrictions, travel costs etc. Also it allows the best professors to teach anywhere in the world, even in the most remote regions of the world. Also it is a great boon to people with disabilities and those who are severely ill to get education, maintain social connections as well as find employment.  
     
  5. Healthcare: It is extremely expensive to visit the doctor in person. What if the doctor could just come to you on a telepresence device, which also had enough digital peripherals to take your pulse, measure your heart rate and scan your pupils, sending this to the doctor?. In addition, for patients with family who are in remote locations, telepresence allows them to visit their loved ones, engage in conversation and move around a hospital room. The visit is initiated by the remote family member hundreds or thousands of miles away. 
     
  6. Tourism: Museums around the world are adopting telepresence devices to give a glimpse of their treasure to tele-visitors from around the world. It allows them to keep the museums open throughout the day, without fear of theft.  

Telepresence is becoming one of the best ways to travel and it is likely to have the same impact in this decade as e-commerce had in the last decade.  

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