This might at first sight sound like an oxymoron but it could be part of a future campus environment.
Last year a couple of tech start-ups presented their first so called “telepresence robots” ready to be commercialized.
The one that got the most attention from the tech scene is AnyBots. Michael Arrington, founder of the popular tech blog TechCrunch even changed his Twitter profile picture to an AnyBots QB after he had had the chance to play around with it in the TechCrunch offices last year.
I believe there is a huge opportunity in the use of such devices in the education space. One of the big downsides of studying remotely is the absence of the social experience. This is also one of the major arguments why brick and mortar institutions will still be relevant in the coming decade and beyond.
Personal robots or drones could be a solution though, enabling distance students from across the globe to actively take part in campus life of the college or university they chose in a general sense.
Teenagers and even many older people are already used to the idea of controlling an avatar thanks to online games and virtual worlds like World of Warcraft or Second Life. Controlling a personal robot, hence a materialized avatar somewhere in the real world is therefore basically a no-brainer. The controls are exactly the same as in a game. You control the direction via keyboard and mouse, you speak with others using a headset and you see the world from the perspective of your avatar on the screen.
The student would simply connect to the personal drone on campus which is parked and recharged in a special garage. As soon as the student is connected, they can then take part in the normal daily social life like meeting fellow students on the way to a lecture, talking with others at lunch break in the cafeteria, visiting the professor during consultation hours and so on and so forth.
There could even be special extracurricular activities for the drones like football matches.
Those drones needed to be personalized, of course, as students and professors wanted to know whom they are talking to. AnyBots is displaying a small video of the person who “possesses” the robot at that moment on the small screen at the top. Hacker Johnny Lee has an even better solution plus the price of his self made robot is around $500 instead of the $10.000 one AnyBots costs.
What is even more important about this hack than the actual price is the fact that the technology to build such devices is already here and available to anyone. If a company was interested in building such a device the team could basically start right away with parts from the regular electronics supply chain. Telepresence robots are in no way science-fiction anymore and I believe have the potential to dramatically change education.
It would allow students to study at universities they might not be able to afford otherwise and without missing on the social aspect of campus life. On the other hand universities could invite top tier professors for lectures and other activities on the campus through such a robot. It would also enable the institutions to sign up students they would normally don’t get and therefore generate more revenue. Last but not least students who would normally miss classes because of let’s say an injury that keeps them tied to the bed were now able to use robots to visit school from home and still take part in lectures and other activities.