In the past few years, a set of technologies has emerged with the potential to change that calculation. The term the creators of these new tools use is "telepresence." Some are custom-built meeting rooms with a bank of high-definition screens and cameras, others take the form of vaguely humanoid robots. None of them fool people into thinking their distant interlocutors are right there, any more than viewers at a 3D movie really think they're in danger during an onscreen car chase. The moviegoers still flinch, though.
The big thing here is the end of the third sentence. As is the tendency these days, robotic telepresence – either a part of unified communications or something that is closely related – is moving from an outlandish notion to deployed technology faster than you can say "Klaatu barada nikto."
This Business Insider piece is a rehash of the BusinessWeek feature. However, the site includes a promotion video from a company called VGO on its robotic telepresence product. The clip is weird in that it seems to be as much an effective display of how robotic telepresence works as a video from The Onion.
The device essentially is Wi-Fi on a segueway, and it bops around the office enabling the person on the other side of the connection to converse with workers and otherwise check things out. I'm sure fewer employees at an organization using the VGO visit ESPN.com (or worse) for fear of the robo-boss silently wheeling up behind them.
A different take – and perhaps even more bizarre – is this November 2010 story and video at Robotionary. The piece introduces the term "telenoid," which is defined as "transferring humanlike presence using a humanoid robot," something that was a theme of the underrated Bruce Willis film "Surrogates."
This all has its comedic aspects, but it has a serious side. If unified communications goes mobile/mobile – wireless devices on objects that can move freely around in a workplace – IT and telecommunications will be called on to do a number of different and perhaps new things.