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Q&A: Telepresence, Video Conferencing, and Practical Teleportation with Ava CEO, Youssef Saleh

When our founders spun out of iRobot to form Ava Robotics, they wanted to design and build robots that deliver on their vision of robots coexisting with people in the workplace. And now that we have Ava partners and customers putting this vision into practice with our telepresence robots, we decided it was time to dig into telepresence, video conferencing, and practical teleportation.

What telepresence and collaboration tech offer businesses, operationally and culturally, to solve problems and drive results: that’s what everyone is after. So we sat down with Ava CEO, Youssef Saleh, to get some clarity and context.

Telepresence, video conferencing, and practical teleportation--what distinguishes one from the other?

What the dictionary or Google suggests versus how the general population perceives these topics varies quite a bit. And, for many, telepresence and video conferencing are seen as one in the same--which is not the case. The important distinction to make is within the context of perspective and user experience.

With video conferencing, which is often referred to as telepresence, you have a window view into a space with other participants. You have the benefit of seeing the space, interpreting facial expressions, body language, etc. But there are 2D constraints. The communication is also very defined, scheduled, and dependent upon the quality of your equipment.

With practical teleportation and telepresence robots, you are IN the room rather than looking through a window into the room. You have multi-dimensional views and can interact within the space with independence and choice. The user decides when they want to go into the space--and it’s not only virtual, it’s also physical. There’s an added layer of being able to move about, turn, look around, and act more naturally within the space.

So practical teleportation is a more natural, spontaneous solution. Can you give an example?

Sure. The other day, I couldn’t find my phone, so I teleported into the office to check and see if I had left it on my desk. Seems simple enough, but in that spontaneous moment, I had a completely different mindset. I was in control of the situation and could solve a problem differently.

This control and behavior is what really distinguishes practical teleportation. When you teleport into a space, it can be planned like a normal meeting, but it can also be in real-time--you have something you want to accomplish and experience in that moment.

What about the on-site people on the other side of the screen? What benefit does practical teleportation offer them?

This is a really important aspect of practical teleportation--understanding that the experience is a two-way, mutual benefit. When someone teleports into a space, no one on-site has to lift a finger to make it happen. As long as they have Ava set up in their space, It’s a hands-free experience for them without any manual requirements. This promotes more natural interaction and focus on being in the moment for those who aren’t using the robot. No to mention, it's a safer, more convenient solution for our current climate.

The robotics technology is obviously what enables all of this. What is the long term value of mobility and added intelligence? Why is it worth the investment?

The intelligence and mobility built into practical teleportation is truly what equips the experience and what makes the difference. But I would actually turn this around as another question: Is your team worth it? Is team collaboration, effectiveness, and satisfaction worth it? It would feel strange to say it’s not, wouldn’t it?

It’s about more than full-autonomy and premium features. It’s about how being able to teleport in unlocks new opportunities for people to do more, accomplish more, and feel empowered.

What workplace situations make video conferencing the right--or wrong--choice?

There’s actually a really simple answer to this. If the entire company, or everyone involved in the meeting/collaboration is remote, video conferencing is the right choice. If no one needs to see and experience anything outside of a person on a screen, there is no need for added user capabilities.

But it is important to recognize that you can’t replace practical teleportation with someone walking through a space with their iPhone--that’s really more of a last resort. Practical teleportation is not just video conferencing on wheels, it's having a physical presence and being there. When mobility and physical space matter, that’s where Ava shines.

The concept of practical teleportation is compelling, but so was digital transformation when it was a novel disruptor. How do you position practical teleportation as something that drives results for businesses?

It’s a largely cultural thing. There are metrics around travel expenses, sustainability, sales enablement, etc., but ultimately, the increased effectiveness of your leaders and your teams is what determines the success of practical teleportation within a business.

When I was at iRobot, our CTO was remote in California. He often felt disconnected and isolated from HQ and his team in Massachusetts. Without being able to teleport in on Ava, he would have hit an immovable communication wall. This is a very common situation, especially with acquisitions where entire teams of people feel like they are floating and circumstantial.

Additionally, CEOs and other business leaders are always trying to solve human resource challenges--getting good people, and making sure they stay. One CEO told me “the most expensive thing is people.” Which is why we have to, especially now, offer people the means that give workers the CHOICE to truly contribute and be a part of company culture. There are a lot of people who are not ok doing their job in isolation. They want to be creative, build relationships, and actively participate.

No one can actually deliver on full teleportation, but are we further along on the collaboration tech timeline than you anticipated back when you were working in the video conferencing industry?

I think there have been many small, incremental improvements with regard to fidelity, quality, and ease of use for video conferencing. But the larger shifts and spaces for opportunity really lie more in things like practical teleportation and even XR--AR/VR technology.

Making meetings better is great and necessary, but the real impact comes in the form of user experience--providing a meaningful and effective experience people want to have again and again.

The technology is there for us to do these things and bring real insights to life. We just need more awareness around how this technology translates into transformative user experience and generates business value.

To experience practical teleportation, schedule a demo with us!

If you want to learn more about Ava robotics technology, or have interest in deploying an Ava Telepresence Robot in your workspace, contact our team.

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