In the beginning....

Telepresence robots being viewed by children

Whether you realize it or not, Telepresence has been around for over a decade, with some pretty humble beginnings. With software like Skype celebrating the 10th anniversary of its initial release bringing video conferencing to the masses, I thought I should highlight one of the first commercial Telepresence models that was available back then.

Developed by Telbotics back in the late 1990’s, PEBBLES, (Providing Education By Bringing Learning Environments to Students), it was originally a research project from the University of Toronto and Ryerson University. In 2005 it was featured as part of Wired magazine NextFest, which gives you an idea as to how innovative Telepresence was at the time. For a little more perspective on the technology at that time, the initial release of the iPhone was still another two years away.

At a height of 60”, PEBBLES came in a set, one machine for the child at his home or hospital room, and the other in the classroom with the teacher. The classroom model allowed PEBBLES to raise his hand, when a student wants to ask a question or give an answer. While there was some control over the head, there was no drive system, so PEBBLES wouldn’t be going anywhere unless he was pushed there. Selling at around $70,000 for the pair, that makes any model today a steal by comparison.


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