Google is considering plans to use drones to deliver video conferencing.
The unusual idea was revealed in a patent awarded to the tech giant last week, which outlines the idea of a drone carrying a screen, video camera and audio systems that allow it to conduct video conferences while buzzing around the room. The patent describes how the drone can be controlled via a smartphone that’s connected to it.
The idea is fairly radical given that until now video conferencing has traditionally relied on systems in rooms, and more recently, systems attached to remote-controlled robots.
“Implementation of a mobile telepresence system on a relatively compact and operationally efficient airborne platform such as a quadcopter may provide significant improvements in, for example, speed, maneuverability, energy consumption and the like, facilitating access to spaces which may be otherwise difficult to access by a larger and less maneuverable platform,” the patent says.
Innovations in the video conferencing space are proving to be extremely attractive for enterprises, with cloud and software-based systems rapidly usurping larger telepresenced systems that involve setting up clunky computer equipment in meetings rooms, as they can quickly and easily be moved between rooms and in smaller spaces on a variety of mobile devices.
Many mobile video conferencing systems necessitate attaching a tablet to a robot that can be moved around a building, but they still have limitations, Google’s engineers wrote.
“A mobile telepresence system may be included on a robot which may be remotely navigated by a user, for example, throughout spaces in a work place,” they wrote. “Such a telepresence robot may be remotely navigated, for example, through corridors, into and out of offices, conference rooms and other work spaces, and the like. However, the size and energy-consumption levels of this type of telepresence robot may hinder its ability to effectively navigate complicated spaces with limited open floor space for the robot to traverse. Additionally, this type of telepresence robot cannot traverse stairs, and would require on-site human intervention to access a work space on a different floor using an elevator.”
Google points out that video-enabled drones are already being used in a number of ways, such as inspecting pipelines and towers, making maps and responding to emergencies. By using drones to film video conferences, enterprises would be able to hold meetings in a greater variety of locations, including in remote outdoor areas.
Google’s patent describes a very small quadcopter with a screen attached to it that displays the remote participants in the meeting. The drone can also carry a projection camera that would be used to display images directly below the device. In both iterations, the drone packs audio and video capabilities necessary to hold video conferences.
The patent doesn’t actually indicate if Google is building any video conferencing drones right now, but it’s common knowledge that Google has been at the cutting edge of drone research for years. Two years ago, Google acquired the drone maker Titan Aerospace, and has also been researching the idea of using drones to deliver Wi-Fi to remote parts of the world. In addition, Google is one of several companies that seek to copy Amazon.com Inc.’s idea of using drones to deliver purchased goods.