Can avatars substitute for colleagues in video-conferencing?

'Location liberation' Not Microsoft-speak but all part of the video-conferencing, telepresence, webinar technological revolution.
The latest development - out of Japan - is a somewhat creepy tele-operated android, which apparently helps you to actually 'feel' the presence of another person. This must-read BBC story says, "Professor Ishiguro's system uses a motion-tracking webcam to transmit your voice, facial expressions and head movements to the Telenoid, via a high-bandwidth web connection.

"The avatar produces only a rough approximation of real body language, but it is surprisingly easy to dupe oneself into regarding it as 'human'."Eye contact and and head movements are important for everybody. But we also gave the robot a minimal design, so that people can use their imagination to make it more personal", Ishiguro says.

Ishiguro believes that this mind-trickery could ultimately provide a return on investment, by allowing workers - interpreters, salespeople, teachers - to be in two places at once.

He is even developing a miniature version of the telenoid, the 'elfoid', which he hopes will one day rival ordinary mobile phones.

The story goes on "Holding and touching a business colleague's avatar might be a step too far...."  I don't think anyone would argue with that!

On a more attainable level, teleconferencing is of course a great way to save money whilst still maintaining eye contact with colleagues. Take a look at Microsoft's hosted online services for example - for 5+ seats, prices start at £6.71 per month and you get a whole lot more than just videoconferencing.
 Visit the website for a free trial and more information on how to buy (services are purchased through Microsoft Partners).

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