Be There Here: Telepresence and Virtual Reality

Brenda Laurel, Telepresence Research, Inc.

Seminar on People, Computers, and Design
Stanford University November 6, 1991


Telepresence is a term used to describe an emerging medium that enables a person to feel as if he or she is physically present in a different place or time. 'Virtual reality' and 'artificial reality' are popular names for this field. Today, telepresence technology typically involves head-coupled stereoscopic displays, three-dimensional audio environments, and body- or hand-coupled input devices. Telepresence technology can provide the experience of being in two different kinds of spaces: computer-generated environments, and actual environments that are distant in space and/or time. The telepresence medium has inherited the rather contradictory traits of an obsession with photorealism from computer graphics and a penchant for metaphor from the realm of human-computer interface design. Its unique characteristics have also made telepresence and "virtual reality" the target of both fanciful and profound commentary from philosophers, feminists, ethnographers, and artists. Telepresence is thus an excellent context for discussing the evolving relationship between people and computer technology. This talk will begin with a definition of the idea of presence, a primer on enabling technologies and applications, and then will focus on critical research and design issues in telepresence.


Brenda Laurel has worked in the personal computer industry since 1976 as a programmer, software designer, marketeer, producer, and researcher. Her academic background is in theatre, and she holds an M.F.A. and a Ph.D. in theatre from Ohio State University. Her work on computer-based interactive fantasy architectures was begun at the Atari Research Lab in 1982 and was published in her doctoral disseration in 1986. From 1987 to 1990 she worked as a consultant in interactive entertainment and human-computer interface design for such clients as Apple Computer, LucasArts Entertainment, and the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University. In 1990, she joined Scott Fisher in founding Telepresence Research, a company to conduct research and development in virtual environments and remote presence technology and applications. Brenda has published extensively on such subjects as "virtual reality" design, computer-based agents, and interactive fiction. She is editor of the book, THE ART OF HUMAN-COMPUTER INTERFACE DESIGN [Addison-Wesley, 1990] and author of COMPUTERS AS THEATRE [Addison-Wesley, 1991].


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