Thursday, February 18, 2010

Collaborative Telepresence using Skype

So I've been thinking about what I call "Collaborative Telepresence" for a while now. Basically the idea is that you are mobile and you send a video feed to your friend at their desktop (or also mobile). Your friend sees something of interest in your video feed, indicates it (with a cursor or similar) and that video feed comes back to you in real time so you can see what they are pointing at.

I see this as being useful when you are at the grocery store and your better half is at home and want's to point out what you should buy, but it should work for any situation where you have a "field operative" and an "expert" who is trying to advise from a another location. What will totally rock is when we can do this over mobile phones.

I worked out a way to jury rig a system like this by using Skype. Skype allows you to both transmit video feed from a webcam and also to share your screen. To set things up, start a Skype call and have the "field operative" broadcast video. Once the "expert" can see the video feed, have them share their screen back to the field operative. Specifically the part of the screen that has the incoming video. Then, when the "expert" moves their mouse cursor (sometimes you might need to have them grab a file icon if the cursor is too small) over a part of the incoming remote feed it can be seen by the "field operative".

In order to get the mobile "field operative" flavour I ran a demo that involved strapping a UMPC to my chest - running skype on it, and outputting the video to a pair of heads up display built into a pair of Oakley sunglasses (see image). This allowed me to operate as a "field operative" in my yard with my wife (the "expert") telling me which Mangos were ready to pick off our tree and which were not.

Skype is on Android and iPhone, but doesn't have video support yet. Here's hoping that will come soon so my wife can instruct my activities at numerous remote locations :-)