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August 11, 2008

Jeppe – is this the new face of home video chat?

HELSINKi, Finland – This morning I came across an unusual new character in the Nokia corridors – a wheeled home video conferencing robot called Jeppe. It’s the latest creation to emerge from the Nokia Research Centre Smart Spaces lab, a place where the teams focus on researching innovative solutions to how devices and services talk to each other, and applications such as remotely managing our homes or tracking our general well-being using “smart environments”. In this instance, the Jeppe prototype is a new experiment that explores how we might accept a different breed of video communication in our homes that’s more compelling and breaks the mould of the traditional PC/webcam scenario.

It’s interesting that Jeppe has been designed to be a social robot creature that’s treated more like an electronic pet than a rolling slab of soulless hardware. Jeppe is loaded with a two-way video camera, a digital compass sensor and sound sensor. The idea is that Jeppe encourages more relaxed “passive conferencing”, so video chat becomes more like an activity you simply do when it feels right rather than a formal task.


As for how Jeppe is controlled, this early version can be commanded by a Nokia N800 Internet Tablet, using a pre-defined set of six gestures to trigger movement. Although reasonably limited at the moment, the plan is that Jeppe can be remotely controlled via the Internet, move independently by knowing where he is and routes to other places, and gather up digital info from his surroundings and other devices, that Jeppe could then send to the person controlling him remotely via the web.

Equally as interesting is the fact that the hardware being used isn’t being plucked from the realms of the future, but rather is a mash-up of existing technologies and components such as Bluetooth, the N800 and even the brain box from the Lego NXT robot.

What do you think about this approach to video conferencing? Is Jeppe something you might use, or do you think it’s a little too gimmicky? I must say, I’m still not certain either way, but I am intrigued by the research and where it might lead. Let us know you’re thoughts in the comments section below.