Robotic Trade Show Attendees – Science Fiction or Reality?

October 20, 2013

When Bob Vaez, president and CEO of EventMobi, heard about Double Robotics remotely controlled, mobile teleconferencing system robot a couple years ago,he knew there would be a place for it in the trade show and expo world one day.

That day came for Vaez and the EventMobi team last week when they exhibited at IMEX America in Las Vegas.

EventMobi invited customers and media, who were not attending IMEX America, to visit their booth remotely via the robot.

The Double Robotics telepresence robot looks a bit like a mini Segway. The iPad stand is attached to a dual-wheel base allowing the person that is remotely driving the robot to maneuver it backwards and forward and even turn on a dime.

“The robot started as a marketing tactic, but it actually ended up being something useful,” Vaez said. “It grabs attention.”

A planner from the Emergency Nurses Association, who was attending IMEX America in person, invited her technical director to join her virtually for her appointment in the EventMobi booth. He was able to follow her through the booth and join in the conversation as if he were there in person.

Vaez said what makes the robot more appealing than your standard videoconference tool is that the virtual attendee can actually move around the space. You’re not stuck in one location.

But Vaez also said there were issues that still need to be worked out in order for the robot to see its full potential as an exhibitor or show organizer tool. Good WiFi is essential. When you lose the WiFi connection, the robot shuts down.

Vaez also pointed out that the robot needs a smooth surface to navigate; it doesn’t do stairs. There were also some issues with the audio. Booth staffers had a hard time hearing the iPad audio over the din of the trade show floor.

“Security-wise someone needs to be with the robot, someone could knock him over or steal him,” Vaez said.

As technology like this becomes more and more attainable, show organizers would be smart to start addressing questions the technology raises.

First on the agenda would be deciding what exactly is the role of the robot.

Is it a promotional tool? Vaez said that, yes, IMEX America saw the robot as a promotional tool. Therefore, EventMobi was not allowed to let it travel beyond the confines of their exhibit booth.

Is it an exhibit staffer? If a show organizer considers the robot to be the equivalent of an exhibit staffer, then it could potentially wander the aisles of the trade show. How will other exhibitors react to the attention it receives due to its wow factor? At least until robots becomes as ubiquitous as smartphones.

Is it an attendee? If a trade show or conference organizer considers the robot an attendee, the organizer could potentially charge the virtual attendee. How much do you charge for access to the show floor? How much do you charge to attend educational sessions? Do you charge by the hour or do you charge by the day?

For now, Vaez is standing by his robot. “Overall, from a marketing point of view, it was a huge eye-catcher,” he said. “From a networking point of view, it was great for our clients. It was like Mickey Mouse with people stopping by to take pictures. That’s what exhibitors want.”

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