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Telepresence for the small business – part 1

If we know one thing that is clear about the future of business it’s that automation and global communications will continue to grow at a very rapid pace. We’ve seen tremendous changes in the world of mobile, cloud, and Big Data in just the past 5 years that have transformed how we live, the way we do business, and how we interact with others. One of the major outcomes of the 21st century digital age has been the growth of the remote worker. Not too long ago being physically present in the office was the only way to get our work done. Fortunately, today there are alternative ways to communicate and collaborate from long distances. Global communications have advanced to the point that someone living in Boston can easily telecommute to Seattle or someone in London can tie in remotely to an office in New York.




More and more organizations are getting excited about telecommuting. In 2009 Forrester Research estimated that 34 million Americans work from home at least occasionally and projected that number to rise to a staggering 63 million by 2016. Technology is a key enabler of this rapid uptick and today there are certainly many more options available than in 2009.

An exciting new area of emerging and disruptive technology that your organization will want to pay close attention to is Telepresence. Now Telepresence is not new or disruptive in the traditional sense. In fact, Cisco in 2008 introduced to the public the first Telepresence conferencing room, which has enabled it, along with Polycom, to become one of the largest stakeholders in this $4 billion a year market. We’ve also all used Skype and other VoIP technologies like Cisco’s WebEx or Apple’s FaceTime that give remote workers a feeling of being more present in the office. But there is a truly disruptive part of the Telepresence market that is starting to catch a lot of people’s attention and that has to do with robotics.

Telepresence Robots, which are usually similar in shape and design to a Segway device, are wheeled systems that are controlled wirelessly by means of a computer or smartphone. These mobile video conferencing machines– compared to “Skype on Wheels” – enable end users to bridge the distance gap and offer means to remotely drive around the office, talk to colleagues, attend meetings, and interact as if they were physically present.



Telepresence robots come in all different shapes and sizes and range in price from $500 up to $70,000. Some of the major players on the market that have emerged over the past 5 years are:

The first five mentions above are Telepresence robots that you manually operate remotely from your PC or smartphone and that can move around your target location. The Kubi (Japanese for “neck”) is one exception in that it’s actually an automated swivel device which gives your mobile tablet remote pan and tilt controls so you can see and interact with people during a video call. The AVA 500 is iRobot’s recent answer to Telepresence for the enterprise; it combines Cisco’s Telepresence mastery with iRobot’s mobile robotics expertise to produce a fully autonomous video collaboration experience.




Today’s tech savvy small business have to be agile, innovative, and decisive in order to stay ahead of the competition. Telepresence Robotics offers a fascinating way for business leaders to become early adopters of a technology that is fast proving to be the wave of the future for remote work and collaboration.

So this gives you a quick overview of the fast-paced, emerging market known as Telepresence Robotics. In the next installment we’ll review some implementation strategies that small business leaders can adopt in this space. Join us back here tomorrow for more on this exciting topic.

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About Jeffrey Walker

I reside in the Greater Boston area where I am employed as a Systems Consultant in Emerging Technology for a major financial services company. My experience in the technology sector has consisted of various roles, ranging from startup entrepreneur to web developer and research/support analyst. I’m also a budding hobbyist in the field of Telepresence Robotics and am interested in how these devices can provide viable solutions for the growing virtual workforce; I blog on the topic at Twitbotics.com.

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