Out of the office and unable to make that important meeting? Why not send a robot to stand-in. That's the goal of eTravel - a project undertaken by HP labs to create a "Mutually-Immersive Mobile Telepresence" or "surrogate robot" that can do your travelling for you and act as your eyes, ears and voice, regardless of where you are - making proxy voting at shareholder meetings of the future an interesting prospect.Designed to be more than a simple weblink, the eTravel concept "replaces" you by displaying a "life-sized" image of your head on four flat panel displays that can be adjusted to either sitting or standing height. The device can go anywhere that a wheelchair can and is equipped with cameras and microphones that provide a 360-degree audio and video view.The idea is to make the virtual presence as convincing as possible and eliminate the perception of distance that makes having an impact during a video conference difficult for the person who isn't in the room. To this end the eTravel system will cater for sophisticated responses such as pointing and whispering and also creates an immersive projection of the remote environment to increase the remote user's feeling of "being there".The remote user operates the robot through a joystick and the prototype is designed to operate anywhere with 802.11a ethernet coverage.The HP Labs team headed by HP Fellow Norm Jouppi have several patents pending on the technology although a commercial version is not expected for several years.
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