We hope you are enjoying our interview series! Tom Green, Editor-in-Chief of Robotics Business Review, presents a new perspective on telepresence robots in today’s post. Tom Green is an Emmy-nominated, award-winning writer, producer and playwright who uses his print and video expertise to tell stories about science, technology and engineering. In addition to working for various companies as a writer, editor, and producer, he owned and operated his own video production company for ten years where he produced video for corporations, broadcast, and cable TV.
Since 1995, Green has evolved his storytelling skills and video-making experience in tandem with the arrival and growth of the Internet and Web. His most recent book, Bright Boys: The Making of Information Technology 1938-1958 (AK Peters, 2010) was an Amazon best seller and is now in its second printing. Prior to Robotics Business Review, Green was editor, writer and online content developer for the MITRE Corporation; JAZD Markets' online directories; and Merck Millipore.
Q: How do you think telepresence robots will shape our future?
TG: They’re here. Telepresence is with us already. Telepresence robots are with us already.
Q: What industry do you see telepresence robots fitting into the best?
TG: Healthcare. They’ve already seen a tremendous boom. I’ve spoken with doctors who have said they’ve saved people’s lives. Hospitals use the robots to give exams, but you can even expand on those exams. There’s a pill you swallow that transmits information wirelessly to a laptop. When it’s going down, it’s taking readings and projecting them outward. Imagine using it with telepresence robots. You can have telepresence robots in-house at apartment buildings for the elderly. You just need one robot going from floor to floor taking blood pressure and temperature or giving eye and oral exams. It’s such a big task for an elderly person to visit a doctor’s office. What if the physician could visit everyone? It would save gasoline, travel time, and accidents. Imagine this: a doctor speaks through the robot and asks the patient if he or she is having any issues. She tells him her fingers are numb, and he gets a cardiologist on the line. They confirm other pre-stroke symptoms and order an EMT to pick up the patient. They just prevented a stroke by using a telepresence robot. If you can keep an elderly person in his or her home and not in a facility, it saves a lot of money. iRobot just came out with a new bot that will go into people’s homes. It can act as a sitter of sorts. It could save one more day, one more year of a person living at home instead of going into a facility.
Q: What do you think the most common use for telepresence robots will be? TG: They should start out with simplest uses. Go from simplicity to complexity. Traffic lights will be the simplest use for telepresence robots. Think of all of the bad things that happen at intersections. Telepresence robots would make them safer and save people time and gasoline. If the lights are programmed for heavy traffic on Tuesdays, but there is hardly any traffic one Tuesday, the robot could reprogram the light. They could even be crossing guards, telling people when or when not to cross the street. Or, if you’re walking and need directions, just ask the robot. They could report accidents or heavy traffic straight to your GPS or radio. Basically, they could be “seeing eyes,” reporting on everything. The robots could even protect kids at schools. They could monitor the parameters and protect kids from child predators or report drug deals. Q: Do you see people using telepresence robots for personal purposes? TG: Yes, I do. They just have to start manufacturing them. Get the price right, and people will be them. I’m a believer in telepresence. Think of a telepresence robot and explode it all over your house. Use it as a babysitter. Keep one in your kids’ room, touch your sunglasses, and see an image of them playing in their room. Brush your teeth, and it takes an oral exam. Basically, it could be an electronic house. Right now they want to build it into one machine that goes from room to room, which is wonderful. Telepresence robots will follow the very same pattern as the computer, fax machine, calculator, etc. They will become necessary parts of our lives. It will be a very long time from now, 50 years maybe. Things can happen very quickly, though, so you can never tell. Today, time is very compressed. Q: What economic effects will increased telepresence robot usage cause? TG: They will save a whole lot of money, specifically in the healthcare industry. There is a direct correlation between the amount of preventative medicine applied and the amount of money saved. The numbers are staggering, in fact. I recently did an article on a PharmacyBot. Normal human pharmacists fill 16 prescriptions per hour, 10% of which are errors. Over 5.1 billion prescriptions are written yearly, and 1.5 million are errors causing 100,000 deaths. The University of California at San Francisco has been using a robot pharmacist for the past year, and that robot has filled 335,000 prescriptions without a single error. If you apply that nationally, you could save 1.5 million errors. Think of whole effect: law suits, lives, etc. I also see telepresence robots creating a new industry. Right now, there’s no virus protection on telepresence robots. As long as you’re on a network, you can be hacked. Every telepresence robot will be on a network, so they can be hacked. Nobody is thinking about this; they’re thinking about what they can do. But this is a real issue. Imagine hacking the robots in a hospital. They can do really bad things in a hurry, and no one will know about it. Safeguarding the robots will become a new industry. It will cost money and increase the cost of the robot, but it will create a new industry. Q: What feature would be useful to add to a telepresence robot? TG: A couple of arms so it can grab things, open doors, pick up a glass, etc. Q: If you had a telepresence robot, what would you use it for? TG: I’d have it wake me up in the morning and make a cognac sour for me. And brew Costa Rican coffee. That’s why I want it with arms! Green envisions an exciting future with telepresence robots, but he mainly sees them as simple, pragmatic solutions. “Everybody is predicting all of these complex uses, but just a little help with the dishes would be nice,” says Green. Read more of Tom Green’s work at www.roboticsbusinessreview.com, and sign up for the newsletter to receive the latest industry news: www.roboticsbusinessreview.com/site/newsletter. We appreciate his input into this interview series. Stay tuned for our next guest interview!