Telepresence, the powerful multimedia and communication tool, is a video collaboration technology that provides two-way high-definition communication that provides the experience of virtual reality. It was first coined by a MIT Professor and artificial intelligence pioneer, Marvin Minsky in 1980 in reference to tele-operation systems for remote manipulation of physical objects.
Telepresence allows organizations to connect two or more distant locations that offer employee, customers, and business partner quality communication, level of flexibility and increased competitive advantage. It provides users the immersive experience of being in the same room.
Telepresence is the application of complex video technologies that uses high-definition resolution and simulates the reality to such an extent that one can truly get lost in the conversation getting the feel that other conferees are sitting right across the table rather than across the world. It simulates the effect of each voice coming from the video display of respective participants.
Types of Telepresence (based on degree of implementation)
Telepresence effectiveness is determined by the degree of implementation from “immersive” through “adaptive” to “lite”.
- Immersive Telepresence creates the same-room illusion by combining high-quality audio and video, simplicity, reliability and the environmental excellence. Environmental excellence is achieved by controlling wall paint colors, furniture, displays, lighting, and fixtures to make all the sites involved in the call identical, thus creating the illusion that remote participants are in the same room. They are most expensive and come in the range of $200,000 to $700,000.
- Adaptive Telepresence uses the same technology and hardware used in the immersive telepresence but doesn’t control the environment at both ends closely and hence the illusion of same room is not created. They are meant for cost constraints and come approximately in the range of $80,000 to $200,000.
- Lite Telepresence doesn’t differ from adaptive telepresence in terms of control of environment but in terms of the integration of technology. They can come in single high-resolution screen or component-level elements for multi-screen which needs to be integrated by the users. They are the cheapest among the three and come in the range of $30,000 to $40,000.
Types of Telepresence bsed on user profile
- Business Telepresence– Telepresence is becoming increasingly popular among manufacturing companies, financial service providers, software development firms and universities for global collaboration between distributed senior management teams of the organizations. They are also used nowadays for distance learning programs. They are broad, flexible and provide fully immersive virtual meeting experience with conferees participating from different parts of the world simultaneously as in “continued presence”. They are expensive according to their degree of implementation and organizational demands.
- Individual Telepresence consists of a single camera and a screen for personal meetings. They are generally designed for single users and small offices. They are less costly and are mobile. Mobile platforms and desktops are also used nowadays for personal telepresence. They are cheaper than immersive telepresence system and come upto $8,000.
Telepresence and other video collaboration techniques
Telepresence differs from traditional video-conferencing in terms of the quality of audio, video, document sharing, control systems and room environment.
- Audio Quality: Highest audio quality is ensured by multiple microphone placement, echo cancellation, audio balancing, tone adjustment and audio pre and post processing. The audio is delivered below the maximum tolerance which can be detected by the human ear such that conferees can “talk over” each other, as in real life.
- Video Quality: Multiple screens of HD quality of resolution in the range of 720p-1080p and cameras at different angles are used to provide an immersive experience. High quality video is generated using progressive scan where horizontal lines of pixel are displayed on the screen one after another from top to bottom. Any inherent motion of the picture is created by the rapid display of successive images captured by the cameras.
- Document Sharing: Data is shared using laptop, USB flash drive or screens for power point slides and documents. Sophisticated telepresence system uses document replication system that automatically scans and distributes the hard copy of documents to all locations in a conference.
- Control Systems & Room Environment: Users don’t have to deal with the technology and direct instructions. The participants don’t have to control anything and they can have a flawless meeting. The room environment is adjusted to simulate the effect of real life face-to-face meetings using lighting, furniture and displays.
Benefits of Telepresenc
- Travel cost savings : Telepresence provides an increased return on investment by creating savings on travel budgets of senior management and teams. The airline cost itself can be reduced by 30%. The cost of three international business trips is sufficient for implementing Telepresence solution. The travel transit time can be utilized for greater business opportunities increasing the return on investment.
- Enable Global Collaboration : Teams across the world can collaborate on complex projects easily because telepresence gives a real life like picture and experience. It provides the flexibility to hold virtual meetings that would be difficult to conduct in real life due to time limitations of physical travel. It is very useful while conducting strategy level and senior management level meetings.
- Increased Productivity & Effectiveness : Telepresence accelerates business-critical decision making process, saves travel transit time, improves work-life balance and reduce the time cycle to launch and market the new product increasing the productivity and effectiveness of the organization.
- Ensures Great Relationship Management : The ability of telepresence to conduct virtual meetings improves and nurtures the business relationships of board members, employees, clients, vendors, shareholders etc.
- Recruitment & Training : Telepresence can easily simplify the process of recruitment through simultaneous interviews conducted by the remote supervisors and bring the best talent from all over the world. It also helps in better and faster training of new hires. New hires can also access the expert advice and learn the things the easy way.
Limitations of Telepresence
- Affordability : Immersive Telepresence solutions are very expensive to implement and cost at least $200,000. Less expensive telepresence are also available but they lack important features and don’t create the illusion of real life like meetings. Telepresence also require a dedicated room for virtual meetings. Thus a full blown telepresence experience is virtually only for large corporations and not for SMBs.
- High Bandwidth Requirement: Telepresence require quite large internet bandwidth upto 6 Mhz for desired experience and high-quality video & audio. IP networks are used which are more expensive than ISDN network.
- Complex Installation & Maintenance: Telepresence require empty space, complex layout of cameras and microphones and numerous plug points. Special attention is also given to acoustics, furniture, lighting and displays for simulating the effect of real-life meeting.
- There are difficulties in maintaining the quality of communication through telepresence over very large distances as data and control signals can’t travel faster than speed of light and hence they develop lag and latency.
- Telepresence can never fully replace face-to-face meetings because it can’t replicate informal interactions that are one of the valuable elements of in-person interactions. Informal interactions such as get-together, gossiping, shared car-ride etc. are the essence of successful meetings.
Major Telepresence Companies
The leading companies providing telepresence are as follows:
Future Scope of Telepresence
The future of telepresence is tremendous. As the technology becomes more affordable, more and more business owners would like to shift to telepresence from physical travel. More and more teams will collaborate using this technology in an effective manner. Some thoughts on future:
- Every large organization will have telepresence room for senior management and teams across the globe to interact.
- Hotels will offer telepresence rooms (this has already been taken up at Marriot hotel) for meetings
- Telepresence will become an integral part of collaboration in the corporate culture delivering the crystal clear audio and visual experiences in the near future. They will become cheaper and will require lower-bandwidth. They may merge with virtual worlds to create hybrid systems that can support avatars, simulated environments and mobile media.
- Distant learning courses and programs will be enabled with the development of technology and evolution of online telepresence.
- Real-time translators and automated translators may be used for long-distance communication where conferees come from different cultures and all of them don’t know the common language.