Hate flying but love travel? This airline will send an avatar in your place

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Forget about waiting in line for security checks, the mad rush to board or sitting in the cramped space of economy for hours, Japan’s biggest airline is hoping to reinvent travel by developing a telepresence robot that could fly in your place.

Woman enjoying a VR simulator at the beach

Japan’s biggest airline is set to debut a travel avatar ©martin-dem/Getty

All Nippon Airways (ANA) recently unveiled a telepresence robot called Newme that allows people to travel without actually having to to board a plane. Newme, which stands about 1.5 metres high and looks like an iPad on wheels, has the capability to transmit high-definition 2k video that lets its user see and interact with the bot’s surroundings in a way that allows them to feel present without leaving home.

Newme comes with customisable body accessories that can be adjusted to suit the user’s needs for more fluid control, adding more mobility and adaptability than traditional video conferencing. So say you have a work conference in another city where you really need to be present but you don’t want to travel and leave the kids, just put on your VR headset, grab the controllers and send the bot to network in your place. 

Newme, a telepresence robot that looks like a screen on wheels

Newme, the telepresence robot from All Nippon Airways ©ANA HD

“ANA Holdings is built on connecting people and Avatars have the potential to connect people across the world in a way that traditional travel cannot and is a continuation of our core beliefs”, Shinya Katanozaka, president and CEO of ANA HD, said in a statement. “Our vision of a better connected planet will rely on the latest innovations in haptic robotics, VR/AR and AI to transform the way that humans interact,” he added. “By placing the world at your fingertips, Avatars will open up new possibilities and help reshape everything from business and education to healthcare and entertainment.”

Newmes are demonstrated in the ANA Holdings Inc. booth during the Ceatec Japan 2019 consumer electronics show in Japan

Newmes are demonstrated in the ANA Holdings Inc. booth during the Ceatec Japan 2019 consumer electronics show in Japan ©Tomohiro Ohsumi/Getty Images

The technology could be especially beneficial to people with severe disabilities who are unable to leave their homes, as well as the elderly. Last summer, people with paralysis, spinal-cord injuries and other debilitating conditions were able to return to the workplace by remotely controlling robot waiters during an ANA demonstration at a Tokyo cafe.

ANA wants to market robot experiences to the general public alongside flights and other services on its website. And this far-reaching plan may happen sooner than you think. The company said it plans to debut 1000 Newme robots by next summer, allowing customers to attend sporting events, meetings or even go shopping on the other side of the world without having to leave their hometown.



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