Telerobotics (TR) is a word you may have heard before but it may not be one that produces a clear definition in your mind. The issue isn’t your brain, it is the fact that the term is often misused in the mainstream media and by non-technical professionals. While “telerobotics” and “telepresence” are often used interchangeably (they are related concepts), the differences are worth explaining. In this first article, we are going to clear up some of the misconceptions and get a look at what, exactly, these two things really are before we wade into the ways in which these will affect the security/surveillance markets.
Telerobotics is often confused with the idea of Telepresence (TP). Both have a role to play in shaping the way that future security systems will act. So, what is the difference between telepresence and telerobotics?
Telepresence allows you to feel like you are in a remote location without actually being in a remote location. Currently, it’s about pumping the highest resolution video and audio to the remote viewer in order to simulate the environment in which the sensing/recording equipment have been placed. This type of solution is going to be focused on improving what the camera and microphone can detect as well as bandwidth utilization. Some common examples of consumer tools include Skype, FaceTime and Google Hangouts.
These are all essentially telepresence applications that can be used from your computer or cell phone. Other than the focus on real-time interaction, this is effectively the current state of the surveillance industry. The video and audio feeds are as real time as possible and an individual can theoretically monitor those feeds from anywhere. This likely means that future applications in security for telepresence may be more about access control or real-time interactions in areas too dangerous/sensitive to host humans.
Telerobotics takes the idea from telepresence one step further. If TP is a remote set of eye and ears, TR is eyes, ears, hands and feet. It allows you to not only see/hear the location and interact via 2-way audio but also to interact physically with objects in the remote location and to navigate the TR hardware around the remote space. This capability could radically alter the way surveillance and security are done.
A telerobotics system could be set up to open doors, physically interact with people or even pull a fire alarm if the situation calls for it. It could also be used to greet guests to the facility or any of a very wide set of tasks that would normally require a human being to be in a specific location. No more having views locked to the focal points of a set of cameras and wondering what is happening just out of shot. With TR, the operator can navigate the hardware anywhere in the facility providing exactly the view needed on any desired location without the need for a bank of cameras. For now, the physical limitations of these systems would be the same as most ‘remote’ technologies. Bandwidth between controller and TR setup, the need to maintain the remote hardware/software and considerations tied to getting a TR setup back in operation should it encounter a significant problem while remote are all considerations that will impact anyone using TR for security.
So now that you have a better idea of the difference between the two ideas/terms, let’s get to the big questions. Is this technology poised to radically change the face of corporate security? How might it do that? When could we possibly expect to see the effects?
We will look at these issues more in depth in the future pieces in this series. Stay on the look-out for the next segment in this series to learn more about these two technologies…