Become a Blimp Avatar to Roam the Real World
VANCOUVER, British Columbia ― "We want cloud interface, not cloud computing," said Tobita Hiroaki, a researcher at the Sony Computer Laboratory.
That sentence didn't make much sense. It seemed like the byproduct of a language barrier.
Then a giant, cloud-like robot blimp floated by, sporting video of a human face, and that pronouncement became much clearer.
Sony's Face to Avatar system, premiering here at the SIGGRAPH interactive technology conference, combines UAV and telepresence technology to create the first real-world drone avatar. Unlike the stationary video conferencing enabled by smartphones or webcams, the Face to Avatar blimp moves, a change to video communications that stands to drastically deepen the link between the digital and the physical world.
"The main function is similar to Skype, but the blimp is an avatar," Hiroaki told InnovationNewsDaily.
That would be an apt description, if Skype involved talking to a 4-foot-tall, projected video face mounted on the front of a remote-controlled blimp.
The Face to Avatar blimp on display here represents a prototype of the system. Imagine a bank of these blimps located in Tokyo or New York City, and available for rent over the Internet. Users could sign into their account from anywhere in the world and then virtually tour the city of their choice ― interacting with any of the strangers they happen upon, or maybe accompanying a distant friend on a walk during their lunch break.
Off-the-shelf motors propel the blimp, and commercially available robot parts, Wi-Fi transmitters and microcontrollers fill out the guts. The software is equally simple, and anyone with a modicum of video game experience could easily pilot the machine.
However, the blimp may be a bit too flimsy to handle flying around outside. Additionally, the pilot's lack of 360-degree vision makes it easy to envision a destructive accident in which the blimp is steered into a dangerously sharp tree branch or fence post.
But while it's hard to imagine thousands of people will log on to pilot a plodding blimp, the idea of free traveling telepresence modules remains compelling. Even if the Face to Avatar system doesn't spark the trend, it's a solid first step toward a world filled with droves of robot avatars.