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Enabling Physical Telework

Author: Matt Adcock

The benefits of telework are not only limited to knowledge workers. We are researching and developing technologies that can empower a skilled individual in one location, to complete a physical task in another location. Our approach has been to investigate systems that have a human collaborator – a technique that is likely to have a profound effect on the distribution of labour in a range of service industries.

We developed the Remote Immersive Diagnostic Examination System (RIDES), in partnership with the Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne. Where previous telehealth systems had used only a ‘talking heads’ style of videoconference, RIDES enables a specialist conducting an examination to effectively ‘reach through’ the screen to conduct medical examinations across large distances. When the specialist draws on the video showing on a computer screen, a laser projector at the patient’s location displays the sketch directly on the patient’s skin or on medical equipment, guiding a local nurse or General Practitioner in the precise way to attend to the patient. This greatly reduces the need for a patient to travel to what could well be only a routine check-up. 

Inspired by fly-in-fly-out maintenance workers in the mining industry, we developed a wearable version of the laser projection system using commodity hardware and some smart software. More recently, we have been working with the Australian Animal Health Laboratory (AAHL), a research facility that houses some of the world’s most dangerous diseases. Crossing the biological containment barriers at the facility takes considerable time and even so, scientists and technicians may be exposed to significant risk. Our new systems can facilitate interaction and guidance on operational and maintenance tasks from any location without physically entering the lab.

Physical telework technologies represent an entirely new genre of applications that will be enabled by ubiquitous broadband networks. We are now looking to partner and deploy these technologies in ways that demonstrate their benefit to a wide range of Australians.