Telepresent Blimp Boss Micro-Manages from Overhead

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So, your boss called in sick today. You envision a laid back day of Gchatting all morning with your buddies, a two-hour lunch and an afternoon of online shopping or posting snarky blog comments. Maybe you'll duck out a half hour early.

But workplace slackers, a word to the wise. You may think that your boss being gone merits you a leisurely day of harvesting your FarmVille crops in your stocking feet as you slurp Big Gulps, but beware.

At any moment a gigantic video feed of you boss, projected onto the front of helium-filled balloon, could float into the room or around the corner. Hovering above you, it would bark orders from a loudspeaker, telling you to get back to work.

This video blimp-boss may sound like a dystopian menace torn straight from the pages of George Owell's 1984, but the technology is anything but but a thoughtcrime. Or is it?

Totalitarian quips aside, Tobita Hiroaki and his colleagues at Sony Computer Laboratories in Tokyo, in good faith, have created just such a craft. Besides projecting video images and transmitting audio, the laundry-basket-sized blimp can be steered by small propellers mounted on a gondola under the balloon, allowing it to glide upstairs and around cubicles.

The project is part of a wider movement seeking to make "telepresence" more prevalent in crucial, work-related situations. For example, a professor who wants to remotely deliver a lecture while traveling abroad. Or a medical patient in Denver who wants to consult with a highly specialized heart surgeon in New York.

Telepresence research basically explores the capabilities and benefits of people being in two places at the same time.

Hiroaki and his colleagues are still experimenting with their project. Now that they've successfully built a blimp and proved it can be operated remotely, it's time to do user studies — experiments that study what human interaction is like with the device.

[via New Scientist]

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