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Robots are taking over the IETF

  • 26 Jul 2014

We have built a lot of support for remote attendance in the IETF, but this week I saw something new.

Robots at IETF 90
Nik Tomlinson attended IETF 90 in Toronto as a robot from the UK.

Nik Tomkinson was attending the meeting as a robot, while himself staying back in UK. We’ve all been through video conference experiences, but the feeling that you get from a robot that is moving around, turning to look at you… mingling in the IETF receptions… is different, and quite life-like.

Nik and his colleague Nathaniel Borenstein from Mimecast have teamed up to attend IETFs, one in person and the other one as a robot, and this time it was Nik’s turn to be the remote attendee. They use a commercial telepresence robot from Double Robotics. The robot is connected over the Internet back to the user’s home, and its movements are controlled by the user.

This is what Nik had to say about his experience:

Attending the IETF conference as a robot was quite a unique experience. It enabled me to engage and be part of the sessions to a much higher degree than with the unidirectional ‘listening in’ to the live audio stream. I was able to attend sessions throughout the whole week, take part in a face to face meeting and even drive around among the crowds at the Bits and Bites reception. Also, I was not restricted by the location of the cameras and microphones, as I carried my own around with me.

Currently there are a number of operational issues which requires a ‘helper’ to assist at the conference, but I can see that over time the dependence on someone in this role would diminish with improved software, hardware and networking.

It certainly was a more practical and convenient way to travel across the Atlantic and to take part in such an event. Saying that, it was a little frustrating not being able to shake someone’s hand when you meet them at the conference. Maybe we need to develop a bluetooth appendage.

Will we see a crowd of these robots in future meetings?