What will Telepresence bring to Market Research?

Helen Thomson has a great article in New Scientist (you’ll need to register to read it) about how we already have the technology to attend an event via a robot. Thomson starts her article by talking about a 7 year old child who can’t attend school because of allergies and who attends via a robot, linking from his pc/video to the robots audio tools in the classroom, a phenomenon known as telepresence.

Thomson talks about two leading brands of robots that are currently available on the market. The two brands are VGO and Anybots, which currently cost about $6000 and $10,000, respectively. Pricey, but not as expensive as flying somebody from London, to Sydney, to Hong Kong, Tokyo, to London, which is what happens to me sometimes.

However, Thomson reports that this technology is about to get a lot cheaper. Double Robotics have announced a product for 2013 which will use an iPad for its head and cost about $2000.

Thomson talks about a wide range of telepresence examples and issues; including: drones being used in the battlefield, surgeons operating on patients thousands of miles away, and even robots manipulated via signals detected through an fMRI scanner.

My interest is in how these sorts of robots might impact the world of market research. Here are a few thoughts and I would love to hear your thoughts on how else they might be applied:

  1. Replacing video conferencing, especially when only one person is not present. In the future the missing person can attend as a telepresence, and even be taken to the social after the meeting.
  2. At conferences, key speakers might attend virtually, taking it in turns to inhabit the robot on the stage.
  3. Perhaps face-to-face interviews, at airports, conventions, supermarkets etc be outsourced to other, lower cost, countries, by using robots to be at the location, and interviewers based somewhere else in the world to drive the process.
  4. At trade shows in the future the stand could be supported by tech support, product heroes, and sales engineers, appearing on the stand via a shared robot.

Unlike AI, text analytics, and speech recognition, telepresence does not need a massive leap in technology, it uses existing technologies which are getting cheaper, and couples these with a route already explored by telesales, tele-support, and CATI.

Notes, these types of robot are not intelligent robots and they do not represent the cutting edge of robotic technology, they are drones operated by a human, they do not look human (an iPad for a head is seen as an improvement), and they have limited mobility (e.g. they can’t go up and down stairs).