The world of technology is rapidly shifting from flat media viewed in the third person to immersive media experienced in the first person. Recently dubbed “the metaverse,” this major transition in mainstream computing has ignited a new wave of excitement over the core technologies of virtual and augmented reality. But there is a third technology area known as telepresence that is often overlooked but will become an important part of the metaverse.
While virtual reality brings users into simulated worlds, telepresence (also called telerobotics) uses remote robots to bring users to distant places, giving them the ability to look around and perform complex tasks. This concept goes back to science fiction of the 1940s and a seminal short story by Robert A. Heinlein entitled Waldo. If we combine that concept with another classic sci-fi tale, Fantastic Voyage (1966), we can imagine tiny robotic vessels that go inside the body and swim around under the control of doctors who diagnose patients from the inside, and even perform surgical tasks.
I know that sounds like pure fiction, but a startup company in Hayward California has recently “flown” a tiny robot inside the digestive track of human subjects. The company is Endiatx, and I had a chance to discuss their technology and vision with CEO Torrey Smith. As a technologist who has been involved in telepresence research from the early days, I was impressed with the progress Endiatx has made. But before I get into that, let’s jump back in time a few decades and provide some context as to why their breakthrough strikes me as such an unexpected advancement.