Imagine being able to travel to Rome while sitting in the comfort of your home in California. Imagine being able to converse with locals in Cancun while having coffee in Kuala Lumpur. Such is the power of virtual tourism.
How it would work:
A virtual tourism company would set up branches, initially, in two to three major cities. It would then buy a few hundred (depending on perceived need) telepresence robots. These telepresence robots could either be ones that travel on land like conventional telepresence robots or be ones that can fly. The flying telepresence robots would basically be quadcopters fitted with a video camera and a screen.
A software and an app would be developed for computers and smartphones respectively to enable people from distant places to control the telepresence robot. So someone in Nebraska would be able to control a telepresence robot in Thailand via only a data connection.
Pros and cons of virtual travel:
I would like to reiterate that it cannot rival actual physical tourism for the foreseeable future but at the right price point, it could be a viable business.
People who may want to use it:
1. Someone who has no interest in traveling but only wants to see a certain attraction (for instance, the Eiffel Tower) up close. He/she could rent the telepresence robot for an hour and do just that for a tiny fraction of the cost of actually going there.
2. Someone who lacks the money, time, or resources to make an actual trip.
3. Someone who has a health condition that has forced him/her to be confined to a geographic location.
4. Someone who is just plain bored.
Some attributes of virtual tourism:
1. The app that allows users to interface with their telepresence robots would be intuitive and user friendly
2. There would be multiple cameras on the telepresence robot that would allow the user to navigate easily. This would also create a certain 3-D feel where he/she feels like they are physically in the place. The user would also get an accurate sense of distance and depth to ease navigation.
3. Since the telepresence robot would have a screen, it would show the face of the user (exactly like Skype or Facetime). This means the user would be able to go next to and actually interact with locals if he/she so pleases.
4. It would have a proximity sensor, where if the user accidentally has gone too close to an object, the telepresence robot would sense it and stop or change directions. This would reduce its misuse and ensure the locals or the attractions are not harmed in any way. A certain minimum distance would also be set so that people do not feel as if they might get hit by the telepresence robot.
5. It would have an internal GPS tracker. So suppose the user does not know the way to a certain place, he/she could put it on autopilot and just let the robot take them to their intended destination.
6. The GPS would also act as a theft prevention system.
Elements needed to enable such an endeavor:
Telepresence robots already exist. The only problem is they are (i) expensive and (ii) not suitable for travel outside of the office environment. This means a new type of telepresence robot needs to be developed. They need to have the following characteristics:
1. Be below $1000
2. Hardy enough to be able to traverse the roads/fly
3. Have a battery life of at least an hour (absolute minimum)
4. Have a robotic arm that would make them fairly autonomous (so they would not need help opening doors, etc)
The good news is, the technology that is needed to get this project up and going already exists. All that is needed is a group of highly dedicated people (preferably engineers) to put it all together.
If executed well, virtual tourism could be a very lucrative industry.
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