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Telepresence interaction is intended to create interpersonal closeness and connectedness

Research group coordinated by Chemnitz University of Technology is working on solutions for the combined use of virtual reality and telepresence robotics to improve the sense of social presence of distant persons in real environments.

Communication between people at a distance is becoming increasingly important in a globalized world, as they often live and work in different places. As a result, their social network of relationships also spans an ever-increasing geographical area. Current telecommunication technologies play an important role in this context by temporarily expanding the boundaries of our environment through the transmission of sensory impressions. However, they do not create the impression associated with positive feelings of actually being together, i.e., spatially present, and sharing real-life events.

Newer interactive technologies can enable presence perception and participation, but they also have limitations. For example, virtual reality (VR), i.e., "immersion" in another environment with the help of VR glasses, can create the impression of physical closeness. However, VR does not allow participation in distant environments and therefore does not enable participation in a real-life event. Telepresence robotics (TPR), on the other hand, allows control of a robot in a distant room and transmits a two-dimensional camera image of the environment. A combined use of both approaches could create a new quality of telepresence interaction.

From telecommunication to telepresence interaction

A research consortium led by the Professorship of Ergonomics and Innovation Management (Prof. Dr. Angelika Bullinger-Hoffmann) at Chemnitz University of Technology is addressing this issue. The project "Tele-VeRbundenheit" also involves the Professorship of Production Systems and Processes (Prof. Dr. Martin Dix) at Chemnitz University of Technology, the Institute of Sociology at Friedrich Alexander University Erlangen-Nürnberg, and the companies Die Etagen GmbH from Osnabrück and YOUSE GmbH from Berlin. The project examines practical solutions for the combined use of virtual reality and telepresence robotics in social contexts.

"While research and development efforts in the field of VR-based collaboration are currently focused mainly on digitizing and transmitting people as virtual images, so-called avatars, we go one step further and consider the inclusion of the real environment. In this way, scenarios can be implemented that enable remote people to participate in real events," reports Dr. Frank Dittrich, research associate at the Professorship of Ergonomics and Innovation Management, who initiated the project. "The use of real-time immersive image transmissions, experienced by using VR glasses, could be a possible approach," Dittrich continues. Therefore, in addition to pure stereoscopic video transmission, the researchers will also experiment with the combination of 3D-technologies, such as depth sensors.

The human factor in focus: mechanisms of experienced presence and social closeness as a research goal

In addition to exploring technical approaches, a key objective of the project is to address social science questions. Researchers aim to determine the impact of virtual presence on social closeness and connectedness. To do this, the technology will be tested in practical use. Because cultural experiences in particular are often shared as special social moments, the researchers want to test the technologies for example during museum visits. The European Capital of Culture 2025 Chemnitz GmbH and the Kunstsammlungen Chemnitz, as associated partners, support the research project. "Improved telepresence technologies not only offer opportunities for interpersonal exchange but could also have a positive effect on cultural participation in the future. People who are denied real visits could still participate virtually. This opens up the possibility of making regional cultural sites globally accessible in a completely new way," says project coordinator Dorothea Langer from the Professorship of Ergonomics and Innovation Management.

Keyword: Funding guideline "Closeness over distance - Enabling interpersonal connectedness with interactive technologies"

The project, with a duration from April 2023 to March 2026, is funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research with around one million euros as part of the funding guideline " Closeness over distance - Enabling interpersonal connectedness with interactive technologies". The goal of the funding is to provide new concepts for innovative interactive technologies and the resulting products and services that enable participation in the lives of close peoples across distances and strengthen their bonds with these peoples.

For more information, please contact Dorothea Langer (Project Coordinator), tel. +49 371 531-32218, e-mail dorothea.langer@mb.tu-chemnitz.de.

Matthias Fejes

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