Lots of blogs have been buzzing about Hiroshi Ishiguro’s latest invention, the Elfoid P1, a pocket-sized version of the Telenoid R1 (Osaka University and ATR’s telepresence android). These days it seems like every other month Prof. Ishiguro’s lab comes out with a new concept more outlandish than the last, so at this point the Elfoid hardly managed to make my eyes roll when I saw it. Unlike most people, I don’t think it’s creepy – just stupid. Like the Telenoid, it’s designed to transmit “presence”, something which Prof. Ishiguro has been studying for many years. The idea is that some sort of motion-capture technology would transmit body movements through it, so you’d get more than just the other person’s voice.
I think the concept of presence is highly overrated and largely unnecessary, but apparently they’re in talks with mobile communications providers to build a fully functional unit in 5 years, to which I exclaim,”Yeah, right!” The fact is, people don’t value human presence. Maybe we ought to, but it seems we like having a barrier between us because it makes things easier. If people wanted a more realistic conversation they wouldn’t be sending text messages back and forth instead of calling, and Apple’s “facetime” would be way more popular.
Then there’s the bigger issue: nobody in their right mind would pay good money for this when there’s genuinely useful stuff like the iPhone out there. It’s pretty hard to improve on something the size of a credit card with that many functions besides making it cheaper, thinner, lighter, and longer-lasting. And besides, even if you fit into the niche that might want to own a cellphone-robot hybrid, you probably wouldn’t want it to look anything remotely like the Elfoid. It would feel like you were carrying around a voodoo doll, and the thought of it wriggling in its soft, skin-like rubber body when a call comes through sounds gross. I’m not saying that a small cellphone-robot hybrid wouldn’t work – just that the Elfoid is a patently bad example of what might be possible. Take for instance the ill-fated J4 built by JVC.
If something like the J4 could pull itself together into a compact shape to fit neatly into a pocket or bag, and then spring to life when a call comes through and dance and gesture on a table as you hold a conversation, I’d be frothing at the mouth for one. More photos of the Elfoid follow after the break.
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