Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Walking iPads, is this just too much?


This story from Phys.org web page first looked like a joke to us, but it does seem to be a real product:

Founded in 2011, Double Robotics is placing its product on pre-order, and it is an iPad-based platform called Double. This in essence is your “robot,” a mobile base with mounting bracket for the iPad, a robot imbued with technology that allows you to ask and say and learn what you want while being inhabited in the Double.

Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2012-08-ipads-telepresence-robot-video.html#jCp

Okay, so it seems that you can get a $2,000 Double, or you can get someone to hold their iPhone and you can use face time.  Maybe a $50 tripod and a few minutes of someones time could help.

This might be cool in some very special conditions.  I could image a museum or building site using something like this for a more interactive experience.  Certainly someone will buy this thing and use it, but will this start an age of presence?  Will we be seeing robots standing in for us in real space like avatars.

A few years ago I spent a great deal of time studying Second Life.  I actually voyaged to almost every SIM in Second life from 2006 to 2010, meeting just about every time of avatar you can imagine and learning in detail the sociology and technology of the subculture.  I even have the blog to prove it.  One thing I learnt from the time I spent mapping and exploring Second Life is that if futurists and Science Fiction writers are keen on a concept of the future, it probably is not a very good concept.

My growing impression is that the current trend of technology promotes nomadic social existence.  This is not unique to mobile technology, the mass distribution of automobiles and trains also opened new nomadic kinds of life, reflected in the novel On the Road.  But we live in civilisation where power primarily is exercised via creating fixed sedentary structures, mapping landscapes in to matrix and terrains.

So for example a generation of people in America and Europe took advantage of the introduction of the steam engine to escape local village life and ride the rails, moving quickly from place to place in a kind of nomadic life that become so popular it has been made essentially illegal for some time.  These same engines in factories connected to trains fuelled the creation of company towns with new fixed locations and populations.

The automobile open up a great world of mobility to people.  It is still pretty amazing that almost any adult in America can just in their car and, for maybe a few hundred dollars in gasoline, can find themselves in any point in North America in a matter of a few days.  

But the automobiles real impact has been the creation of the mass suburbs with their office parks.  What would have been farm land of open country 100 years ago has been settled in to a matrix of fixed units of land use, units that use the illusion of grassy lawns to give a sense of open space that really does not exist.  The automobile has turned vast areas of the United States in to owned parcels of land, and made people even more locked in to their homes and isolated from their communities than would have ever been possible.

Certainly the TV seems to be the least nomadic of all inventions.  The TV certainly seemed to fix people in their homes, isolating them in singular locations.  But it is important to remember that the TV present its own kind of nomadic experience.  It allowed people to explore new ideas, to learn about the world like never before, to learn about travel, and to explore new belief systems and religions.  

Currently the computer is experiencing a rise in the nomadic stage of its use after being one of the greatest sedentary tools every created.  People are able to take their computing and media with them, tuck in a pocket or under an arm.  The question is if this trend is so radical it will transform the tendency to more and more settled from of life, if we are really becoming more nomadic and mobile after centuries of becoming more settled?  Or will more and more products like the Double try to extend the fixed features of this new technology?  The Double certainly could let you lot in to the presence of an office from anywhere, but it would also ground you use of the iPad in to a single location.  At $2,000 a unit it is likely you are going to only log in to a few of these through work.  It is possible that the iPad could ultimately extend you fixed presence in a single location no matter what you are doing, thus take the nomadic nature of the mobile device away and give you a more fixed experience beyond presence itself.

From my own feeling on how things are going I don't think so.  I think the mobile device is part of a more nomadic way of living, but I full anticipate that companies will see to convert their usage to more settled forms, this is simply how power works in civilisation.  

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