What could possibly go wrong – control tourist robots from thousands of miles away
So here is a new idea that is likely to polarise opinion into two distinct camps of “wow, that’s awesome” or “oh my goodness, how daft”.
Not teleporting, science fiction-style, but by operating a robot with a camera on-board.
It sounds too fraught with potential technical difficulties to be true, but Teletrip is already operating in a few cities such as New York, where the device wanders around locations such as The Highline, Times Square and Central Park.
So how does it work?
“Hosts” can set up their device (iPads are used in the promo materials) in a location using a number of different portable structures, either stationary or driveable, segway-style machines.
The software then connects the user at their home or office to the device over the web and allows them to move about on the bits of kit (wheels are obviously going to be more fun), zoom in and out or look up or down, side to side.
Users pay for the service on a per-minute basis.
The company is the brainchild of Brian Maxwell, a traveller and robotics specialist who came up with the idea when living in Japan and travelling around Asia.
“We want to give anyone, living anywhere, no matter what their circumstances, access to explore and experience amazing places around the world.
“The possibilities are endless – imagine a grandmother who cannot travel having the opportunity to share the experience virtually with her grandkids while they explore Central Park. Or a child in China who can now explore Times Square in real time with the click of a button.”
Maxwell wants to expand the service to include destinations around the world, where controllers can wander around museums, galleries, landmarks, festivals and other attractions.
It seems reasonably optimistic that many of the attractions would not be too keen on letting in someone wielding a segway with an iPad fixed to the top, but Maxwell is confident, not least because one of the options is for organisations to use the devices as a marketing device.
“This launch is just the beginning. We’re keen to learn from our users on how to grow and where to expand.
“We also want to expand the type of robots people can control, to include aerial drones and underwater ROVs.”
But what is in it for the individual hosts of the robots?
They set a price-per-minute of action, which are then taken from the user by way of a credit system.
Maxwell says hosts then earn 80% of the revenue from “visitors” to an location.
In some respects the idea is a more structured version of Twitter’s Periscope service, giving people the chance to create “pop-up” broadcasts, but which are then controlled using the keypad or device at the other end.
Still, the company argues that is it “beyond just a remote video experience” and hopes to work with destination and attraction teams so they can showcase their product(s) to users considering a visit.
Here is a clip with the marketing puff for Kickstarter:
And another of it in action:
Kevin is senior editor and a co-founder at Tnooz. He was previously editor of UK-based magazine Travolution and web editor of Media Week UK from 2003 to 2005.
He has worked in regional newspapers (Essex Enquirer) and started his career at the Police Gazette at New Scotland Yard in London. He has a degree in criminology, a postgraduate diploma in magazine journalism and publishes his first book - a biography about Depeche Mode - in early-2017.