About this project
Here are my flatmates interacting with my prototype:
What is this about?
This is about me realizing an idea of mine. This is me asking for your help and offering you to be part of this idea of mine in return. What I get out of it are the resources for building a telepresence robot of my own design, which is based on principles of submersion, implicit interaction and embodiment. I will use this robot for a series of studies on mediated presence, embodiment and human robot interaction.
Some of the things you could get out of it:
- Take a virtual trip to a location in central Europe
- Become my boss and have me conduct related research for you
- Become my collaborator
- Get your own telepresence robot, capable of relaying haptic sensations
- Be part of the process - learn from my mistakes, learn from the things which go right and learn from what I find out
Most of all, I want this to be fun, so let’s see where we can take it …
What am I doing?
We have social norms which tell us when it is allowed and acceptable to touch each other. I want to understand how this changes if the person I am touching is not physically present, but merely represented by a physical avatar - a telepresence robot.
I will build the experimental setup which I have outlined in the sketch above. I will conduct a study where two players will play a game which requires B to touch A on various places of A’s body. There will be two conditions. One in which A is actually present and a second one in which A is present only by proxy via the tele-presence robot.
I will be collecting quantitative data on all touch interactions. The main inquiry however will be qualitative and consist of participant observation and in-depth interviews.
I believe that the answer to my question will also give some insights on questions regarding what human presence is and how technology can act as an embodiment of ourselves.
When will all this happen?
I have quite a tight schedule. That is why this Kickstarter campaign also is shorter than most (don’t miss the deadline! October 28th!)
This is not a topic which is new to me, nor are the concepts, so I perceive the schedule as something which helps me focus, rather than something which I am afraid not to meet. I have been thinking about this for almost three years now and have actively been working on these problems for two years, so I have lots of material to start with.
Here is my timetable:
I already built a quick prototype to double-check some of my assumptions in regards to the construction of the final robot. Here is a video of me testing it:
Relevant Expertise and Past Experiences:
One of the first robots I built (early 2010) was a face-tracking robot. It was a simple setup - it had no more than two degrees of freedom (DOF - i.e.: it could move in two directions, x and y axis). When people walked into the room, the robot would follow their faces. I was amazed by how strongly people reacted to this little machine. While I knew it to be a mindless object, people immediately started to give it human characteristics such as “It is curious”, “It is confused” etc. This observation is one of the reasons why this area is so interesting to me.
Since then I have worked on interfaces for humanoid robots with Nico Roos of Maastricht University's department of Knowledge engineering. I expanded on this work, turning it into a wearable computer interface with Audrey Girouard of Carleton University, Canada. Through this work I managed to get a research position at Queens Universities Human Media Lab, Canada where I worked on flexible displays and organic user interfaces (OUI) with Roel Vertegaal.
In order to balance out these rather technological and quantitative experiences I conducted an ethnographic study, exploring embodiment of everyday objects in daily life with Ulrike Müller of University College Maastricht, Netherlands.
The advisor who I am currently working with on this project is Ike Kamphof who is a post-phenomenologist philosopher. She researches telepresence and tele-care at Maastricht Universities Department of Philosophy and I feel very lucky to have her support.
Some videos of previous projects which you might want to check out:
- WristFlicker: A wearable input device (originally intended for controlling humanoid telerobots
- A Flock of Birds: An art installation, playing with the coupling of input and output using paper as a medium
- Animated Paper: Another exploration of paper as a computational medium (here is another video, which was featured on hackaday)
Here is another video where I talk about the project, and where I actually show my face :-D
How I contribute to the community
I am going to open source all software which I develop in the course of this project under MPL 2.0 licence. I will also document the process of building the robot and interface in detail, and post instructions on how to build your own setup on instructables.
How will I use your pledge?
950$ Is the absolute minimum I need for doing this. If I reach this, I know I can do it, however, I will still be scrambling to make it happen...
Here is a quick table I made of what I plan on using the 950$ on and what I would use additional funding for:
Some final thoughts...
I believe science should be about communication. I hope to get people interested and involved in my project through Kickstarter. Therefore - even if none of the rewards are for you, or if your financial situation does not allow you to contribute, but this sparks your interest, please write me (paul.strohmeier+kickstarter @ gmail com). I would love to hear your criticism, suggestions, ideas and questions. I want to keep this topic as grounded as possible by listening to your comments. I want this to be a collaboration and to achieve something in collaboration with others.
This is not only an invitation to contribute your money to my project. I am inviting you to become an active part of my project. Be it through advice or criticism. Be it because you bought one of the higher rewards and I am conducting an additional experiment for you or because because you feel like dropping by and helping me physically put this together, or because you have some interesting reading for me. You can be part of this project.
Risks and challenges
On the hardware side, my biggest challenge will be making a 'seamless' interface. I do not want the person controlling the robot having to consciously be in control - rather I want that person to simply experience being at another place. I have worked on solutions for this problem in the past (my WristFlicker project was such an attempt) however, this will be more complex.
On the content side, my biggest challenge is telling a cohesive story. It is very tempting to overtly focus on quantitative data, however, the core of what interests me, embodiment and social presence is qualitative in nature. I hope to be able to tell a personal story of interaction with technology at the end, rather than a mere summary of quantitative measures. Creating this personal, qualitative story within a scientific framework is to me the biggest challenge of this project.
Finally I would like to say thank you to all those who have helped me get this online on Kickstarter. Special thanks goes to my mother Hillary Keel. Thanks also to Antonio Gomes for valuable feedback and to Reka Gyenis for listening to me explain my ideas to her again, and again and again. Thanks also to my dad Gerhard Strohmeier for being enthusiastic about it and to Brigitte Strohmeier-Hofer for immediatly thinking of ways of pushing my work further.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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