Don't fancy an overseas meeting? Get a Furby to go instead
A view from Sue Unerman

Don't fancy an overseas meeting? Get a Furby to go instead

The future solution to too much business travel? Not better video conferencing, not a humanoid android lookalike, but perhaps an adorable cuddly toy version of...

Back in 2009, there were lots of predictions that business travel would lose out to new forms of video conferencing. Indeed, when judging the recent APG Awards, there were a few presentations via Google Hangouts.

Owen Smith spoke to us from Hong Kong and Cathy Clift transmitted from New York. If I said it was the equivalent of them being in the room, I would be lying to you. It is difficult to get the full force of your personality across under those circumstances, even though the judging panel was determined to get to the quality of the work and past the quality of the connection.

We all use video conferencing under certain circumstances, but it is fairly well-understood that, if your job title includes "global", then you’d better carry a passport and a toothbrush at all times.

As I am not a fan of the airport, I think this is a shame. While, undoubtedly, there’s nothing to replace the firm handshake and air-kiss of greeting, it would be good on a number of economic and ecological levels for there to be substitutes for flying that satisfied better than a shaky video connection. 

The substitution may lie in a form of robotics. There is a great deal of development in this arena driven by the ageing population and the need for carers. What is interesting is that the robots aren’t going to look like people. This is because of the "uncanny valley" (tinyurl.com/kaffx). What the "uncanny valley" theory shows is that people don’t like robots that look like people. Too scary; even taboo. People like puppets, muppets, Furbies and cuddly toys.

So, a team of scientists in Singapore have designed the HuGGler – a monkey robot (tinyurl.com/n2s59vm) to help Alzheimer patients. In Huddersfield, Teddy The Guardian Bear (teddytheguardian.com) is caring for babies. 

Could we get to a situation where the robot could sit in a cupboard in meeting rooms around the world and be plugged into a modem that you controlled from your HQ? It would shake hands, hug and interact so that you didn't have to go everywhere in person. Is it just a dream? And, if it will become reality in the near future, would you have global media planner Furbies in meetings all over the planet? Or am I just a muppet for thinking so?

Sue Unerman is the chief strategy officer at MediaCom
@SueU

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