Robots are taking over the IETF


We have built a lot of support for remote attendance in the IETF, but this week I saw something new. Nik Tomkinson was attending the meeting as a robot, while himself staying back in UK. We’ve all been through video conference experiences, but the feeling that you get from a robot that is moving around, turning to look at you… mingling in the IETF receptions… is different, and quite life-like.

Nik and his colleague Nathaniel Borenstein from Mimecast have teamed up to attend IETFs, one in person and the other one as a robot, and this time it was Nik’s turn to be the remote attendee. They use a commercial telepresence robot from Double Robotics.┬áThe robot is connected over the Internet back to the user’s home, and its movements are controlled by the user.

This is what Nik had to say about his experience:

Attending the IETF conference as a robot was quite a unique experience. It enabled me to engage and be part of the sessions to a much higher degree than with the unidirectional ‘listening in’ to the live audio stream. I was able to attend sessions throughout the whole week, take part in a face to face meeting and even drive around among the crowds at the Bits and Bites reception. Also, I was not restricted by the location of the cameras and microphones, as I carried my own around with me.

Currently there are a number of operational issues which requires a ‘helper’ to assist at the conference, but I can see that over time the dependence on someone in this role would diminish with improved software, hardware and networking.

It certainly was a more practical and convenient way to travel across the Atlantic and to take part in such an event. Saying that, it was a little frustrating not being able to shake someone’s hand when you meet them at the conference. Maybe we need to develop a bluetooth appendage.

Will we see a crowd of these robots in future meetings?

Jari Arkko, IETF Chair