CoolTimeLife Podcast: Telepresence Robots and You

This blog comprises show notes for my CoolTimeLife podcast entitled Telepresence Robots and You.

A still from the Big Bang Theory episode: The Cruciferous Vegetable Amplification.
Photo: Robert Voets/CBS
©2010 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.

If you are familiar with the comedy series called the Big Bang Theory, you might have seen an episode in which Sheldon, seeking ways to lengthen his lifespan by avoiding danger sends his robot to do his work for him at the university. The robot he sends looks a lot like either a Beam or a Double, two of the most popular brands of personal robot. (It’s actually a Textai robot, manufactured by Willow Garage, which was later acquired by Beam). For millions of viewers of the show it was likely the first time they had actually seen one in action.

Of course, the show is a comedy and the use of the robot included some comedic situations, but nonetheless, it was there. If you are not a viewer of The Big Bang Theory, or you missed that episode, no matter.

The point is that these personal telepresence robots are increasingly becoming a viable alternative to physically being in the office in your human form. But I want to look at this seriously as a credible business tool, because that’s what this podcast is all about.

So What is a Telepresence Robot?

If you have never seen a telepresence robot, go to or and have a look at the photos and videos. In essence, a telepresence robot looks like a screen or an iPad mounted on top of a Segway – a pole with two wheels at the base that is self-propelled and self-balancing.

If you want to see one in action, there is a great YouTube video that shows them wandering the offices of LinkedIn. It’s just 3 and a half minutes long.

A telepresence robot is you, or at least the top half of you, on a screen, which allows you to wander the halls drop in on meetings, talk to people, listen to them, and basically interact as you would if you were actually there.

They are a thing now because supporting technology like WiFi make it possible for you to be able to drive one and use one from wherever you are in the world, and mobility and battery power make it possible for them to operates.

“So, do we need them?” People ask, as they do with any new technology that enters their lives, like cars, microwave ovens, personal computers and mobile phones? Why do we need personal robots when you can just teleconference or Skype instead? The answer is something that its users call the Transformational factor.

The Transformational Factor

Yes, instead of using a telepresence robot, you could call into a conference room. Or better yet, get in your car and drive to the office. Or if your office is hundreds or thousands of miles away, jump on a plane and make your way to the office that way.

OK I’m being a little facetious, but people always assess at every new technological development with their eyes firmly fixed on the past. As the LinkedIn video will show, those staff members who chose to start using a robot often used a key word: transformational. This means it changing the way people meet and communicate, even remotely.

Whereas teleconferences and video conferences are good at bringing people together fro wherever they happen to be in the world, this still means scheduling formalized meetings at set times. Such meetings have their usage, of course, at least, when run correctly, but the robot users pointed out that they were no able to capitalize on those ad-hoc meetings and one-on-one discussions simply by rolling their robot up to someone and saying “hi.”

Such reliable two-way communication was not possible up until now, so now is a different time – a transformational time.

The Presence Factor

The other key concept to be aware of here is presence. Presence refers to more than just seeing a face on a screen as you might with a Skype video conference. It’s about being aware of people in three dimensions. Early telepresence experiments involved attending a meeting using VR or AV, to look to your left or to your right and see people who weren’t actually in the room, but who were there in 3D space, virtually. When you add full stereo sound to this scenario, you start to get a sense of presence, known as telepresence.

VR and AR glasses in their current form are bulky and alien, but that does not mean they are out of contention. Sometimes a technology arrives in a shape that is almost embryonic, and does not reveal what the final form will be. It simply hints at what’s to come. If you wanted, you could call this the Segway Factor.

The Segway Factor

When the Segway was being designed and tested (anyone remember “project Ginger?) it was hyped or overhyped as the single greatest invention in human history, a new form of transportation that would change the world. Well It didn’t.  But what it did do, like so many world-changing inventions before it, is pave the way for innovation by providing a useful tool for the next set of inventive hands.

So the gyroscopic technology that allows a Segway to stand and move may not have revolutionized or replaced the act of walking fast, but it has allows this upcoming generation of robots to move more reliably. Misplaced or mistimed innovations often have to wait a little before revealing their benefit. Think, for example, about the 3M Post-it Note, made from a glue recipe that would not stick the way glue is supposed to. Think also about Gorilla glass – the durable glass coating that forms the face and the interface of most smartphones. Gorilla glass was a failed recipe for see through cookware for Corning. The recipe sat on a shelf for decades until the day smartphones replaced flip phones and changed the world.

The WalMart factor

The other thing about robots is that they are already here. There are thousands of YouTube videos that show robots in warehouses, factories, even in prototype restaurant kitchens. Robots are only robots until you get used to them. Then they become appliances, like your dishwasher, your Roomba or your smart home system. “OK Google, show me videos of robots in houses.”

Premium robots are expensive. Some might find the $3000 price tag of a Double to be expensive, even though it will pay for itself by removing one business trip from the budget.

But there was a time, too when an external hard drive for an IBM PC costs thousands of dollars. Now laptops are just a couple of hundred, thanks to worldwide acceptance and the economies of scale. I call this the WalMart factor. A couple of years from now, you or your kids will be picking out their telepresence robot from the robots department at WalMart.

Maybe the robots in the current form will be out of date in a few years, looking as quaint and clumsy as VR goggles currently do, or a 1985 loaf of bread-sized cellphone now does. But they won’t disappear. They will evolve. The question is, will you?

This is the transcript of the CoolTimeLife podcast entitled Telepresence Robots and You. If you would like to listen to it, you can check it out at our podcast site here. If you would like to review other podcasts in this series, visit my podcast page at

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The Blended Mindset

This blog post, written for HP’s Business Value Exchange , entitled, The Blended Mindset is available for review at This post proposes that people need to maximize their human skills such as creativity and relationship to match their technological abilities.  Click here to read.


My take on cloud computing for business, for

MintRecently I was interviewed by online personal finance powerhouse The topic: cloud computing for business. It is always a great honour to be called upon to discuss such matters. A short excerpt is below. The content is (c)

It’s hard to believe that just five years ago not many people outside the tech world knew anything about cloud computing. Wikipedia only had a couple of sentences about it, and not too many websites were discussing it either.

So Steve Prentice and his colleagues decided to cash in on what they suspected would be game-changing technology by creating CloudTweaks, a site devoted to educating business leaders, entrepreneurs and techies about cloud-based technology.

“We knew that this was going to be a high-growth industry with lots of interest due to the online accessibility and low costs of SaaS and cloud computing,” Steve says. “This is when we decided that it was a good time to start to educate CEOs CTOs, governments and students on the subject, and we have not looked back since.”

Their gambit has paid off. Today, everywhere you look there are references to cloud computing, and CloudTweaks has continued to position itself as a highly regarded source of industry news.

We recently checked in with Steve, a senior writer at CloudTweaks, to learn a little cloud 411 and find out how the technology can help business owners. Here’s what he had to say:

To read the full article on the website, please click here.



Money, Currency and the Internet of Everything

In addition to my own posts, I also write for CloudTweaks, an authority on cloud computing. Cloudtweaks is currently working with Cisco, who have released and exciting new thought leadership platform called InnovateThink. I have been asked to contribute some material to this project, and it is an honor to do so.

My fifth article focuses on money, or at least virtual money, which is not only representative of the Internet of Everything, it also promises also to play a major role in the way things are bought and paid for.

Here is an excerpt:

In terms of the Internet of Everything, virtual currencies such as BitCoin allow for a wider range of actions that traditional banks find too costly to touch, and who make too expensive to use, such as micro-transactions. These small purchases may be the equivalent of a couple of cents, and would allow consumers, or their IoE-enabled possessions, to pay a small fee for to access a single news story on a news website, for example, removing the need for banner ads and other old-school monetization techniques, and allowing a greater sense of pay-as-you-go-only-for-what-you-need.

BitCoin is not the only virtual currency out there. In fact there are many dozens, if not hundreds of virtual currencies vying for market attention. BitCoin is only the most famous of the bunch – for now. But together they represent change, and a significant move toward decentralization and virtualization, just as cloud technologies are doing with big data.

To read the full post, please visit CloudTweaks here.

The Internet of Everything – From the Ground Up

In addition to my own posts, I also write for CloudTweaks, an authority on cloud computing. Cloudtweaks is currently working with Cisco, who have released and exciting new thought leadership platform called InnovateThink. I have been asked to contribute some material to this project, and it is an honor to do so.

My first article is an overview of the Internet of Everything, and is entitled The Internet Of Everything From The Ground Up. Here is an excerpt:

Traffic chaos in crowded city streets is largely the result of several thousand independent beings (i.e. vehicles and their drivers) all seeking a direct route to their own particular destinations in competition with each other. Every time they stop at a traffic light, to pay at a parking lot, to find a space or to merge into already congested traffic, the ripple effect travels backwards, holding up hundreds more. There is a direct similarity here to the time and productivity gridlock that occurred in business in the pre-IoE era: employees working in silos, on workstations with seat-license software, connected only by the still woefully inadequate and obstructionist technology called email, and meeting occasionally in boardrooms.

The magic of IoE for smart cities is the development of a larger-scale city-wide awareness in which IoE technologies transform the commuting individual into a component of a larger entity – one in which a car and a phone merge into an intelligent life-device and the city itself functions more as an organic being. Small cities such as San Carlos, California, and larger cities such as Barcelona and Amsterdam have started to roll out integrated traffic management systems as part of a city-wide embrace of IoE as an economic solution to high-density life. This ushers in a proactive solution to transit woes: an inoculation against the problem, rather than a Band-Aid upon it.

To read the full post, please visit CloudTweaks here.

Things To Consider When Moving Your ERP To The Cloud

In addition to my own posts, I also write for CloudTweaks, an authority on cloud computing. My most recent post focuses on moving your ERP to the cloud. Here is an excerpt:

The transition to the cloud is a serious undertaking and one that requires a good deal of analysis and planning, not only on the part of IT managers, but actively by all members of the CxO suite. Acumatica, an industry leader in cloud-based Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), recommends that this list of questions be reviewed and answered during the due diligence phase: Who is in charge? Is it better to employ cloud-based admin software provided by the cloud host using their subscription-based Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), or should you keep the deployment in-house? If you have in-house IT experts, then keeping the software on-premises might prove advantageous, but if not, or if you wish to minimize your IT costs, then let the cloud host take care of the equipment.

Is it scalable? One of the true advantages of using cloud-based solutions, including business management software, is in its immediate scalability, both larger and smaller, providing more resources when needed, and a smaller, less expensive system when demands are lower.

To read the full post, please visit CloudTweaks here.


Moving HIPAA Compliant Healthcare Data Into The Cloud

In addition to my own posts, I also write for CloudTweaks, an authority on cloud computing. My most recent post focuses on Moving HIPAA Compliant Healthcare Data Into The Cloud. Here is an excerpt:

Complete HealthCare Solutions (CHS) is a large multidimensional healthcare computing firm headquartered in Palmer, Mass., and which serves 350 physicians, 12 hospitals, various group practices and individual patients throughout the United States. By 2009, their computing infrastructure had become a constraint on growth. Their existing network included many old, near end-of-life computers and proprietary systems that had been installed years ago, and scaling this computing capacity to meet demand was a constant challenge. Due to HIPAA regulations, CHS required a dedicated, secure, non shared computing environment, which made it impossible for them to collaborate with most traditional hosting solutions providers.

The CHS legacy systems, along with ongoing company growth meant that even maintaining the status quo was difficult, but CHS also further taxed their computing infrastructure by introducing new products and capabilities to benefit their clients. For instance, they wanted to provide physicians with the ability to access patient records securely from anywhere in the world, 24/7. This kind of capability is excellent for the end user, but it is expensive to develop and manage in-house. CHS therefore decided to explore the possibilities of Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS).

To read the full post, please visit CloudTweaks here.



Understanding Big Data

In addition to my own posts, I also write for CloudTweaks, an authority on cloud computing. My most recent post focuses on understanding Big Data. Here is an excerpt:

What do Wal-Mart, Facebook and the Hadron Collider have in common? They are just three of many large organizations who are major consumers and processors of Big Data, a term that is becoming a greater priority for companies around the world as they struggle with a ceaseless and ever growing ocean of information.

The short definition of Big Data is that it represents all of the data in your organization – not just one type. Data resides in all business functions: marketing, finance, operations, research & development, customer experience – everywhere – and it essentially comes in three flavors: structured, unstructured and binary.

Structured data is the type of information that is organized and indexable, and consequently is most often stored in databases or annotated documents. This could include records and files. Unstructured data refers to loose material such as emails and tweets, and according to some estimates, may comprise 80% or even 90% of a company’s potentially useable information. Binary data refers to photographs and other media that is generally stored using binary formats.

In a recent podcast delivered by Mike Gualtieri, Principal Analyst, Forrester Research, Inc., and Milan Vaclavik, Senior Director & Solution Lead for CenturyLink Technology Solutions, it was noted that 70% of IT decision-makers see big data analytics as a priority within one year. This makes sense. For a company to fully understand where it is going, what its customers need, and how it compares to the marketplace, it must be able to access and use all of its data quickly and comprehensively. Currently, for most companies, this data is segmented into silos, with different storage mechanisms running on different platforms overseen by different people. So in a sense, Big Data at this moment in time, does not so much represent bits of information. The term better represents a concept, a problem, and a solution.

To read the full post, please visit CloudTweaks here.



Moving ERP To The Cloud

In addition to my own posts, I also write for CloudTweaks, an authority on cloud computing. My most recent post focuses on moving ERP to the cloud. Here is an excerpt:

You can’t run a business without ERP. The term itself stands for Enterprise Resource Planning, but in essence ERP is about pulling together all the functions involved in a company into one computer or system. Everything from purchasing raw goods to shipping finished product, even HR and Accounts Payable needs to be accessible and useable in order to correctly handle the basic reason for a company’s existence: to get a product or service out to the paying customer.

Whereas in earlier decades the processes involved in order fulfillment, purchasing, tracking, warehousing, shipping, and so on might have existed separately, the principle behind ERP is that it all lives on a central database, allowing for a clearer understanding of where a customer’s shipment and payment are at any given time.

For many decades the ERP process has evolved along with existing technologies and trends, and now, of course, it is moving to the cloud. Cloud-based ERP is not just simply about migrating data offsite; it offers the added conveniences that in-house data management cannot adequately provide. One such benefit is remote access, in which employees can call up or modify information on the fly from their BYOD and mobile devices. A second benefit of cloud-based ERP is its sheer versatility.

To read the full post, please visit CloudTweaks here.


I Don’t Know What I Don’t Know

CopperEgg LogoIn addition to my own posts, I also write for CloudTweaks, an authority on cloud computing. My most recent post focuses on another common IT issue: not being able to locate a problem due to outdated or inadequate monitoring software. The bottom line is it is seconds, not hours, that are required to root out danger quickly, or better yet, before it happens. The article features solutions provided by Austin, TX-based CopperEgg. Here is an excerpt:

What happens when the IT person doesn’t know where the source of a system failure is? What happens when that same IT person has to go and explain to an executive that the source of the problem cannot be found quickly, due to an organically-evolved legacy system or diagnostic tools that cannot reveal what is truly happening under the hood? What kind of answer can be given when the boss asks why we didn’t see this coming?

Such scenarios are enough to make most IT managers wake up at 3 a.m. in a cold sweat.

Minutes count, but seconds count even more. A sudden surge in social media activity for example, might place greater demand on a system which, if properly balanced and prepared, would likely be able to handle the increased load. But if a monitoring system is slow, outdated, or vague, or if it does not provide alerts in advance – based on current needs and past performance – then the crash comes first and frenzied diagnosis must follow afterwards.

To read the full article, please visit CloudTweaks here.