With the COVID-19 pandemic forcing millions of people into lockdown, isolation and quarantine, people across the globe are turning to technology to stay connected.
Video and web conferencing is the new norm.
And with telepresence robots, you can stay in touch like never before.
These smart little bots can place you at a remote location in an instant, giving you a virtual presence, or "telepresence."
So, what exactly is a telepresence robot and how do they work?
Simply, it’s a computer, tablet, or smartphone-controlled robot that includes a video-camera, screen, speakers and microphones.
In these challenging times you can expect to see more telepresence robots in schools, offices, hospitals, medical clinics, aged care facilities and in the hospitality and retail sectors.
Telepresence robots have been described as "skype on wheels," but they offer so much more.
Instead of having a static view of participants (as with skype and other video conferencing applications), users can choose multiple locations and a variety of camera angles.
Save thousands of dollars in travel expenses
Many telepresence robots come equipped with autonomous driving for enhanced communication and convenience, with features such as built in laser pointers and zoom capabilities.
With voice control and an internet connection, users can view and interact with remote environments. Best of all, telepresence robots can save companies thousands of dollars in travel expenses.
Some can also be linked to smart home devices like Amazon Echo and Google Home.
A prime example is temi, a personal bot developed by Israeli-based company robotemi.
Equipped with a 25cm tablet as a head, temi is attracting worldwide attention.
temi, which now comes with Amazon Echo built-in, can play music and videos, check the weather, get news reports and even order takeaway meals.
You can use temi in two settings, either Alexa mode or temi mode. If you choose Alexa, it means that you have access to about 80,000 Alexa skills on the app, from games to exercises or ordering an Uber.
After launching in Tel Aviv more than two years ago, robotemi now has a team of more than 50 IT, engineering and marketing professionals in three key locations – China, US and Israel.
Despite its cutting-edge design and high-tech features, temi remains affordable for businesses and consumers, says temi co-founder and CEO, Gal Goren.
“This is one of our key points of difference,” he says.
“We are able to keep the costs low, because everything – including design and manufacture – is done in house,” he says.
“We build temi with an open platform – that gives us great flexibility. It means new technology can be easily integrated.
“We are very agile – we can update software very efficiently and affordably.
“Our components are more affordable than our competitors.”
Big growth potential in Australia and NZ
While the US remains the biggest market for temi, the company is also developing strong markets in Korea, Japan, Hong Kong and China.
“We expect Australia and New Zealand will also become big markets for us,” says Goren.
Business has been growing steadily, particularly during the current coronavirus pandemic, where temi keeps people connected while in isolation.
Last year, the company reached agreement with Amazon to integrate its Alexa assistant through its LCD screen. Similar deals have also been struck with internet and entertainment tech giant Tencent in China and with a leading telco in South Korea.
Goren says temi was originally launched as a personal robot for domestic markets, but the company is now shifting its focus toward B2B.
“For instance, if you have a liquor store temi can greet customers and assist them to find products they’re looking for – then it can take them there.
“This is a great user experience – and a great consumer experience.
“temi can be easily customised for each different business.”
Goren says temi is not just a telepresence robot – but also a telepresence robot.
Sales are steadily increasing retail, hospitality, healthcare and corporate sectors, he says.
Earlier this year, robotemi supplied 17 temis to a seniors’ home in Connecticut in the US.
And last month, at the height of the coronavirus crisis in China, a number of units were shipped to an aged care facility in Shenzhen City.
Nicci Rossouw, the co-founder and principal of Exaptec, the company that distributes temi in Australia and New Zealand, says the little bot is changing people’s lives.
“Being connected to each other and having the option of being able to ‘drive around’ in an office, home, conference or any other environment is a deal breaker for my clients,” she says.
“I have a client who is a quadriplegic following a car accident, and he uses one of our robots to run his business from home.
“And children with ongoing health issues that can’t go to school because of their compromised immune systems use our robots.
“Our robots have been used to attend weddings and have hosted speakers from the USA at conferences.
“Disabled people have been able to attend conferences for the first time – we have remote workers that dial in daily to their office in Melbourne, to mention but a few use cases.”
Temi is the brainchild of Yossi Wolf, a physics graduate and robotics expert, who designed the machine for his grandmother.
It is the world’s first, truly intelligent, mobile, personal robot harnessed by the power of your voice.
Featuring state of the art AI, and a system of sensors and cameras, temi can navigate the most challenging environments.
Keeping loved ones in contact
Ms Rossouw says global interest in temi has spiked following the coronavirus outbreak.
“With the lockdown of aged care facilities, this little robot can keep loved ones in contact with each other, she says.
“The stress that people are experiencing at the moment isn’t great for your immune system and it will be even worse for our elderly to be told that no visitors are allowed.
“Having a temi roving around an aged care facility connecting people to each other is huge. But temi can be used in any setting, not just aged care.”
Two of the robots were recently sent to a hospital in Brisbane for consultants to stay in contact with each other.
“Another client has several storerooms that are completely unstaffed – he uses the temi to dial in when clients arrive at his show room,” says Ms Rossouw. They use a code to access the show room and he is instantly ‘there’ on the temi to discuss the products – it’s the perfect solution for him!”
Also, a university in Melbourne is using temi as a host on open days to show prospective students around.
“In Sydney, temi is being used as a receptionist when their receptionist has a lunch break. Basically, any vertical from education to aged care to hospitals can use temi.”
Ms Rossouw says temi is extremely user-friendly, with no formal training required.
“An app is downloaded on your phone and it all happens from there,” she says.
How much can you expect to pay for temi?
Current pricing is from A$3,500 but with a weakening Australian dollar, prices can be expected to rise.
Temi can be ordered in Australia through Melbourne-based Exaptec and TQM Robots in New Zealand.
For more information: www.exaptec.com.au