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Monday Musing: Making it Personal with Telepresence

Category: Center for the Future Of Museums Blog

This video caught my attention this morning: a crowdfunding pitch for what is billed as “the world’s first social innovation telepresence experience.”

This system, Omnipresenz, is designed to let you control a human “avatar” anywhere in the world, seeing and hearing through their internet-connected gear, and directing them to interact with the world. It’s being pitch by developer Daniel González Franco “as a tool for virtual tourism, as a sort of therapy for agoraphobics or bed bound people to leave their house, or even as a way to rethink the experience of charity.” You can read more about it in Fast Company. 

It reminds me of the whack “Somebody” app by artist Miranda July that also facilitates recruitment of a human avatar, in this case for the very specific function of putting a human face and voice to your digital message. 

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Both Omnipresenz and Somebody grapple with how to turn put a human face on remote, virtual engagement with the world. 

I’m intrigued with “telepresence avatars” as an alternative to “telepresence robots” (like those we demoed at the Alliance annual meeting this past spring.”)  As museums begin to experiment with telepresence, whether for education, accessibility, or simply as a new form of engagement with the museum, it will be interesting to weigh the benefits of human over robot, robot over human.  One Suitable Technologies staffer piloting a BeamPro in Seattle noticed many attendees were shy about coming up and interacting with him via the robot–until he held his cat up to the screen (cats apparently being the universal language of internet relatability. See, #CatVidFest). Would people be more, or less shy about talking to someone with a helmet-mounted camera on their head? 

Food for some Monday thought. And if anyone wants to visit a DC museum remotely, I’m totally up for being your avatar, if we can work out the tech.

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