You could one day attend meetings with someone else’s body via ‘human Uber’

Sony-affiliated virtual reality researcher Jun Rekimoto demonstrated his invention — “Chameleon Mask,” or human Uber — that allows you to have someone wear a screen displaying your face on their face, so you can attend events remotely.

Instead of video conferencing into the meeting, we could one day be using other human bodies to physically represent us in the office while we work from home — A world of human stand-ins. That’s the future a new product envisions.

At MIT Tech Review’s EmTech conference in Singapore this week, Sony-affiliated virtual reality researcher Jun Rekimoto demonstrated his invention — “Chameleon Mask,” or human Uber — that allows you to have someone wear a screen displaying your face on their face, so you can attend events remotely.

This product allows you to Skype into a meeting on another human’s body

According to user instructions from Rekimoto’s lab, your doppelgänger is not only supposed to wear your face, they should also be instructed to act like you:

“A surrogate user wears a mask-shaped display that shows a remote user’s live face, and a voice channel transmits a remote user’s voice. A surrogate user mimics a remote user by following the remote user’s directions.”

In his co-authored paper on the “human-human communication mask,” Rekimoto suggests using a surrogate who is your equivalent height, body type and gender in addition to someone familiar with the rest of the people in the room, like a colleague.

What makes this invention different than just using an iPad?

Telepresence robots are not new inventions for the workplace. The Double, which essentially acts like an iPad on a Segway, is already being used in offices to give remote workers face time with clients and colleagues. But Rekimoto argues that the Chameleon Mask can accomplish more by being humanlike. Unlike other telepresence devices, a Chameleon Mask is at human height and will not run into as many technical difficulties that an iPad on wheels might encounter.

But when your colleague starts waving their hands in the meeting the way you do, will everyone else be fooled, or will they be creeped out? According to Rekimoto, his telepresence invention is “surprisingly natural.” In a pilot field test, researchers found that unsuspecting bystanders would treat the person in a Chameleon Mask as human: “They seemed to believe that the remote user was in front of them. Thus, the surrogate was not only physically present but also created a sense that the director ‘was there.’ ”

To put it to the test, researchers recruited a 23-year-old female student to be the human surrogate of a 28-year-old woman who needed to go to a local city center to get a request form, but was unable to travel there. In the human surrogate’s interaction with a city officer, the bemused officer treated the person wearing a display mask as human, but ultimately asked her to take off the mask in an interesting exchange:

Officer: “You are the right person. But would you take off your mask, please?
Person talking through the surrogate: “Sorry, I can’t. This body isn’t mine. I can’t go there, so I let my agent visit the city office.”
Officer: “Pardon? You are not the person on this ID?”

The officer said he could not give the surrogate the certification form needed, but acknowledged that rules for in-person certification could change in the future.

This could be a new job in the gig economy

While there are still hurdles to overcome, surrogates who could be doing this kind of work said they were up for the challenge. In the future, the gig economy may mean strapping on other people’s faces for cash. That was the sentiment the surrogate who ran the city center errand felt: “I may consider becoming someone’s surrogate as a part-time job. I felt that my work helped someone else.”

Monica Torres|is a reporter for Ladders and can be reached at mtorres@theladders.com.