Many of you will have seen the Big Bang Theory episode where the character, Sheldon, decides he will only appear as a virtual presence in the world – as a robot.
When a serious knee injury grounded me from international travel for the foreseeable future, this robot-Sheldon came to mind.
I’d been invited to be a keynote speaker at the inaugural Positioning Theory Research Symposium in Belgium. Flying was out of the question but I was determined to be there. In the academic world giving a keynote address is seen as a ‘big deal’.
I found some interesting websites about travelling by sea in a cargo freighter. No freighter could get me there in time. So move over Sheldon – ‘Mel-don’ was born.
The University of Newcastle’s Information Technology department acquired for my use a “Double Telepresence Robot”. I was going to the symposium in Belgium in a virtual capacity.
We sent the robot to the United Nations University Institute on Comparative Regional Integration Studies in Bruges, Belgium.
I am happy to report that over the last few days I have participated in the symposium. I delivered my keynote speech, interacted with symposium participants following their presentations and was even able to mingle at break times.
Sitting at various times in my offices on the Callaghan campus and at my home in Newcastle, I operated “Mel-don”. I could adjust my height and my position in the room. I could hear what was going on and respond, just as if I was there.
I work in an emerging field of multi-disciplinary study that applies Positioning Theory to various disciplines. Professor Rom Harré and Professor Luk van Langenhove developed this theory, both of whom were also keynote speakers at the symposium.
Instead of missing the opportunity to listen and interact with these eminent scholars, and others such as Dr Christine Redman, the “Double Telepresence Robot” enabled me to “be there”.
I had the joy of being present when a Danish researcher, Associate Professor Susanne Kjærbeck, reported positive outcomes of implementing my positioning model for communication in an infection control context in a hospital ward. Already the insights I garnered from these exchanges are informing my research and my supervision of research students.
This experience has been amazing. To be so supported in my research by the University of Newcastle is very affirming – so thanks to all involved.
Thank you also to my wonderful colleague, PhD student and positioning theorist, Deborah Wise, for making the Belgium end work so smoothly.
I’m not sure whether “Mel-don” will ever re-emerge but this technology is now available at the University of Newcastle. Who knows where or how it will be used next? Last year Edward Snowden delivered his TED talk about surveillance and Internet freedom via a telepresence robot. From what some see as sublime through to madcap capers of Sheldon, new possibilities await.