The Next Remote Workers: Telepresence Robots
Want to check in on the progress of a project or the state of your office, or need an immediate status update on the floor of a manufacturing plant? It's impossible to physically be in two places at once, but that is getting a little less difficult with an innovation known as "telepresence robotics."
Pretty soon your company will be able to buy a robot that would allow you to be elsewhere--traveling for business or working from other remote offices--yet be able to interact with any location with the aid of the robot.
Designed by Anybots, QA, as it's called, is a 30-pound, 5-foot robot with two 5-megapixel cameras and a 7-inch LCD display located in its chest. QA comes with a rechargeable battery, has a battery life of 4 to 6 hours, includes 802.11g wireless and is both Mac- and PC-compatible. Also, QA has a green laser pointer that can be directed to point and draw shapes and has two 12-inch wheels and boasts speeds of up to 6 mph--you know, so you can run, I mean, remotely drive, to that next meeting.
Kristina Grifantini from MIT's Technology Review tried QA out recently:
I tried out QB at the 2009 IEEE conference on Technologies for Practical Robot Applications (TePRA) conference, where I also met Erin Rapacki, Anybots' newest employee. Rapacki was flying out to the company's office in Mountain View, California the next day, but had set up her laptop and headset so that conference attendees could try the teleoperated robot and chat with her west-coast coworkers.
Using the controls felt like playing a simple video game, and there was less of a lag than I had expected, so Blackwell [Trevor Blackwell, CEO, Anybots] and I could carry on a decent conversation. He told me that the company aims to launch a telepresence robot, like QB, commercially in the second half of 2010. Rapacki added that the approximate cost of such a robot is about $10,000 - $15,000.
One of the best ways to see the practical applications of a telepresence robot is to watch videos of QA in action. I suggest watching this one for starters.
Anybots has also been working on a number of other robots that are much more sophisticated than QA, but do not appear to be as ready for commercial and business use. QA is slated to be available in the second half of 2010, said Technology Review.
(Image from Anybots, Inc.)