Don’t get on a plane, send a furbie

The future solution to too much business travel ? Not better video conferencing, not a Humanoid Android look-a-like but perhaps an adorable cuddly toy version of yourself.

Back in 2009 there were lots of predictions that business travel would lose out to new forms of video conferencing.  Indeed when judging the recent APG awards there were a few presentations via Google Hangouts.  Owen Smith spoke to us from Hong Kong and  Cathy Clift transmitted from New York.  If I said it was the equivalent of them being in the room I would be lying to you.  It is difficult to get the full force of your personality across under those circumstances, even though the judging panel were determined to get to the quality of the work and past the quality of the connection.   I’ve just attended Wired’s Disruption Discussion on new consumer tech.  The first presenter wasn’t there in person but as a robot.  This manifested itself as a disembodied head through a screen balanced on top of a Segway that was remotely controlled.  Innovative, but less engaging than a flesh and blood presenter might have been.

We all use video conferencing under certain circumstances, but it is fairly well understood that if your job title includes “Global” then you’d better carry a passport and a toothbrush on you at all times.

As I am not a fan of the airport I think this is a shame.  Whilst undoubtedly  there’s nothing to replace the firm hand shake and air kiss of greeting, it would be good on a number of economic and ecological levels for there to be substitutes for flying that satisfied better than a shaky video connection.

The substitution may lie in a form of robotics.  There is a great  deal of development in this arena driven by the aging population and the need for carers.  What is interesting is that the robots aren’t going to look like people.  This is because of the “Uncanny Valley”.   What the “Uncanny Valley” theory shows is that people don’t like robots that look like people .  Too scary, even taboo.  People like puppets, muppets, furbies and cuddly toys.

So a team of scientists in Singapore have designed the HuGGler – a monkey robot to help Alzheimer patients.  In Huddersfield, Teddy the Guardian Bear, is caring for babies.

Could we get to a situation where the robot could sit in a cupboard in meeting rooms around the world and rather than have to fly from place to place they could plug the robot in to a modem that you controlled from your HQ and it would shake hands, hug, and interact rather than you needing to go everywhere in person?  Is it just a dream ?  And if it is reality in the near future would you have global media planner furbies in meetings all over the planet ?  Or am I just a muppet for thinking so ?


One Response to “Don’t get on a plane, send a furbie”

  1. Sam Learmonth says:

    I find this idea curiously engaging. Partly because I like the playfulness of it but mainly because I think this could really happen. If you think about it, it’s really an avatar, and we’ve been using them for years… Not just in online worlds or computer games but also, to a lesser extent in the images that we use for our user icons that represent us in social media. Some people keep the same icons, some use it as a way of representing how they feel at that moment. Although representing ourselves in this way seems to be something we’ve become increasingly comfortable with through Facebook, Twitter, etc. being able to represent ourselves through a proxy seems to be something we have always been prepared to use and accept in others throughout history. From sacrificing a judas goat, to an emissary being a kings representative in a foreign country to fighting tooth and nail to be the car in a game of Monopoly. Bring it on, I want a one-eyed dolls head atop a meccano spiders body.