Telepresence and video conferencing are similar, but there are a few key differences to understand. Both achieve the goal of bridging the distance between people and make communication more engaging, but what else should you know? In this post, we’ll take a closer look and compare telepresence vs video conferencing to help you make an informed decision.
Managing a large, far-flung team comes with plenty of challenges, the biggest of which is communication. Whether it is you that seems to be forever away from your team, traveling from meeting to meeting or you are responsible for remote workers, keeping clear channels of communication is vital to a successful company. To achieve this, video has become the go-to choice for the largest companies in the world. But how to do it?
Thirty years ago, communicating with the rest of the world was a hassle. You had to arrange a specific time to be on a conference call, gather your teams into a room and make that call. Today, having a live video call with someone thousands of miles away is a piece of cake.
Video chatting software has found a place in both business and personal settings. However, with the growing demand for innovation, a new technological creation has formed. It is called the telepresence robot.
Telepresence vs Video Conferencing
What is video conferencing?
It may surprise you to know that the first video conferencing software dates all the way back to 1936 and it was called “videotelephony.” It was opened by the German Reichspost (post office) between Berlin and Leipzig, utilizing broadband coaxial cable to cover the distance of approximately 160 km (100 miles).
While the distance between the callers has increased and the ability to have more than two people on the call has been introduced, the basic fundamentals are still the same. People dialing into a central point from a static camera
What is telepresence?
Telepresence is the ability to be in two places at once. It is about to projecting yourself with a certain amount of interaction. the most common method of doing this at the moment with telepresence robots.
Most telepresence robots consist of a computer, tablet, or smartphone attached to a controllable robot with built-in microphones and speakers. The device is controlled via WiFi and provides live video and audio as well as a virtual presence for people in remote areas. For example, you can use telepresence robots to interact with your coworkers in the office while you are traveling, or even present to a class in a school that is based in another country.
The Double Robotics Double 2 is one of the top telepresence robots you can buy at the moment.
Which is better?
While on the surface that may seem like a simple question, as with most things, it very much depends on two major factors. One that you intend to use it for and two your budget.
Let’s start by working out what suits your needs.
Almost all companies these days have a certain level of video conferencing capabilities. All you need to do it is a computer or smartphone with video conference software. Some examples of the most popular ones include Skype and Facetime among many more.
However, a full set up takes quite a bit more. If you are making presentations or have a team or remote workes dialing in for meetings, it would make sense to invest in a decent size (or many screens) or even a projector so your colleagues in the room can all see the various offices that have dialed in. It would also be sensible to invest in proper microphones so the sound is crisp and clear whether you are across the table or in Timbuktu. Having been on the end of many meetings run through a computer alone, the unreliable sounds become very frustrating when relying on a laptop mic to pick everything up.
While you can invest is the best set up possible, the major drawback of video conferencing is that you do have to be organized, set up the call and wait to be answered. You need to get everyone together and online. Also, for the viewers, it can be a little less engaging. When people are taking turns to talk, unless someone is moving the camera around, then they end up being left behind with no visual cues from the speaker.
But what about with telepresence
In contrast, a telepresence robot’s main function is to provide a virtual presence wherever the user wants to be. By utilizing a telepresence robot, such as the Beam telepresence robot from Suitable Tech, the user’s message and presence can go beyond a stationary screen. For the remote user, the meeting is generally a little more engaging. You can move around and focus your full attention on the speaker.
The other beauty of telepresence robots is the fact that you can log in and go at any time. If you want to get in touch with a couple of people in the office, or even have a snoop around to see what people get up to when you’re not there, then you can log in and go. Of course, that is if you don’t have a mischievous team who unplug the charging dock as soon as you leave the office.
The other great thing about telepresence robots is that kind of show stopper feel. If you send your team to trade shows or exhibitions, they are a great way to keep in touch with them while they are on the road and you can be sure that people will notice you. It is a great way to be at the show without having to travel.
On the flip side, if you generally have larger meetings with many remote employees, a room full of telepresence robots is far from ideal, the meeting becomes hard to track who is speaking and generally rather cumbersome.
What about the cost of video conferencing vs telepresence
For the cost of one, mid-range telepresence robot, around $3000 you can buy a pretty sweet video conferencing set up that covers a great camera, big screen or projector, microphone, cables and even a subscription to one of the premium conferencing apps. But there will be a fair amount of installation required. So when looking at the numbers of telepresence vs video conferencing, the later is cheaper.
However, people in the tech industry often argue that a remote presence robot is far more advanced than any video conferencing software available today. If you’re not fussed about having wheels, the Kubi Classic is a robot iPad stand and a great option for a midway system that has some of the benefits of a telepresence system without the price tag.
However, if you want a better model, it’s hard to look past the Double Telepresence Robot or the Suitable Technologies Beam robot as great mid-range telepresence robot options and retail with a price tag around $3500 per robot. They both come with a camera kit, great audio set up and strong battery life.
So should you invest in Telepresence robots or video conferencing?
I hate to sound cheeky, but having experienced both great video conferencing, bad video conferencing and telepresence robots, my recommendation would be to invest in both. While they are often compared, they are different enough to warrant considering both options. The robot is a great idea to engage with your team daily while away from the office, but it won’t replace a video conferencing set up.
If I were pushed to recommend one option, I would say you have to consider what is important to you and what your business relies on more.
If you have a small to a mid-sized team that is office based but you are traveling a lot for events and meetings, then I definitely think a telepresence robot is the best way to go. The meeting will be with most people in a room so you can still engage with minimal fuss via your telepresent state. But, if you have a mid to large-sized team in various locations, many offices or remote workers, then a high spec video conferencing suite would be much more beneficial. The larger screen and hi-definition audio will make for much clearer meetings.
Matt is the founder of the Little Robot Shop, who has spent much of the last decade hacking home cleaning with various robots and devices to make keeping his home clean as easy as possible. Not an easy task with two young children.
When not working on the Little Robot Shop website or YouTube channel, he works as technical support and product specialist for a fast-growing digital company. He does his best to get his younglings to code, which will be an essential skill in the future.