This morning I enjoyed another doppelbot experience. I drove a Double Robotics machine around the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative (ELI) conference. It was good to get some more real-world experience with this emerging technology.
Some of it felt like what I wrote about on Tuesday: playful interactions, some smooth functioning, tricky audio, helpful ELI folks, and a sense of semi-embodiment.
More quick reflections:
Playfulness inspires not just the bot driver, but also some people interacting with the doppelbot. Larry Johnson of the New Media Consortium (NMC), fresh from presenting the new Horizon Report for higher education, chatted with “me”, then hugged the bot with enough energy to skew it to one side. Which was fun. Other folks insisted on taking selfies with the bot. Some people poured drinks on the bot: doppelbot libations.
Bandwidth issues are a serious challenge. As with any other high-demand digital service, such as videoconferencing, the doppelbot’s success depends on sufficient internet connectivity. This morning saw that connection vary wildly, from effectively real-time quality to jitters and ultimate stoppage. We were relying on a conference connection, and those can be iffy, especially as users pile onto the network. Any educational institution wanting to use a doppelbot needs to establish a bandwidth baseline.
Imitation of life It was quite easy to slip into non-robotic behavior while driving the doppelbot. I drove up to a conference poster and read it, while listening to the poster-er explain his work to someone else. I moved among the crowd, looking for people I know. I “met” some people I’ve only connected with online (what I call “first contact”). I found myself trying to read name badges, and so forth. The doppelbot became my avatar in many ways.
The Napoleon complex Drivers can adjust the height of the doppelbot, raising or lowering it. The lower setting has the advantage of allowing increased speed (not so much “neck” wobbling, see?), but has the psychological problem of creepiness. There must be something unsettling about seeing a person’s face appear at the height of your navel, chirping “hello!”
Sound off Audio remains a significant problem. I was actually able to hear people pretty well, bandwidth permitting (see above). The real issue was making myself heard. The iPad’s tiny speakers just don’t suffice.
Overall, an exciting, fascinating, and usable technology.