Geocaching with a Beam

Shared Outdoor Activities through a Telepresence Robot with 360 Degree Viewing

The purpose of this study was to explore the benefits and challenges of using a telepresence robot to support sharing outdoor leisure activities. Methods used were field study, in-depth interviews, observation, surveys, and qualitative and quantitative analysis of the results.

 This project was very interesting and challenging, from designing it to running the field study and managing to walk with a giant robot with a camera attached on top of it in an outdoor urban park!

My responsibilities in the project included: managing the group, designing the study, questionnaires, field study observer and researcher, data analysis and main writer of the research paper.

The final prototype 

The process: First, as a group, we started brainstorming ideas and thought about the features that we would like to add to the robot and the field study process. Features such as the robot having a 360-degree view for the remote participant, deciding the process of finding geocaches, the amount of time being allocated to the task, and the technicality of taking a robot to the urban park from campus.

Geocaching: The geocaching activity needed to be planned out very carefully. We wanted to make sure we kept the experience fun for our participants meanwhile collecting enough data. We chose several routes and hiding places for our geocaches which participants should have found. The final map for the geocache is shown in the picture.

The geocaching map

360-degree view: For the robot to have a good 360-degree view, one of the group members wrote the program and us as a team tested several ideas on where we should put the 360-degree camera. We had so many trials an error on how to hold the camera in front of the robot meanwhile adding on parts that can secure the safety of the device even if our remote drivers were not careful enough and caused the robot to collapse.

From left to right, Beam software view (left photo), 360-degree view (top right), local recording (left bottom), remote participant recording and what the local geocacher would see
Field photo from a hot summer day while waiting in between two studies

Field study:  In this study, we decided to accompany the local geocaching person to the park. We wanted to be able to both observe and make sure both the participant and the robot were safe in the field study. As the person in charge of the project, I was the person who would take the robot to the park and took field notes during the study. I made sure both participant and the equipment were safe. Before each team started their quest, our remote team member would practice a few minutes with the robot with both 360-degree view and normal view.

A challenging final rainy day of the study. The picture is a portion of the 360-degree camera view with the participant in the middle, me holding an umbrella over the robot, and another researcher recording the session in back

For the study, we ran four pilot studies and recruited 28 participants to do geocaching as an outdoor activity. Participants were recruited in pairs where one person geocached in an urban park with the help of the remote partner via a telepresence robot.

Outcome: The results of the study were quite interesting. First, we were keen on seeing if the 360° camera had an effect on the user experience. To do so, we used a quantitative method called the Networked Minds Measure of Social Presence which at the end did not show a significant difference between the two views. However, the qualitative results were very rich and included the benefits of having a physical embodiment and a sense of immersion with the 360° view. The results also included challenges related to a lack of environmental awareness, safety issues, and privacy concerns resulting from bystander interactions. The final work led to a CHI paper which you can read all about it here.