If you're lazy and dig the idea of a robot fetching you beer, the idea of a robot going to the office for you is even better. Anybots, a California robot start-up, is launching its QB telepresent robots this fall, and I recently got to take one for a remote spin.
The idea behind telepresence robots is to give users the ability to project their presence to a remote location through a robot, essentially driving a video conference around and interacting with colleagues in a richer manner than voice or video alone.
For the test drive, I first "robotted in" to the Anybots office in Silicon Valley (how quaint that this verb is still a nonentity on Google). My surrogate was QB12, one of many robots lined up in a hallway there.
The 25 QBs made so far are basically self-balancing Webcams on wheels. Lacking arms and legs, they look like living room lamps on Segways. They weigh about 35 pounds and can travel up to 3.5 miles per hour, fast enough to keep up with someone walking. Their lithium ion batteries can power them for six to eight hours of use.
When a QB is hosting a user, its eyes glow. The Web browser interface (currently Mac only) is very simple--you can see what the robot sees through its panning camera eyes; a smaller window displays a shot of its wheeled base to help steer. Navigation is through arrow keys.
You can also indicate objects (but unfortunately not atomize them) with a class II laser pointer, controlled by mouse. Three built-in microphones focus on the loudest voice they can pick up. A small screen mounted on QB's head will show a video of the remote user if he or she has a Webcam, or simply a photo.
Telepresence felt like a Webcam chat combined with Street View combined with an FPS game, as well as the sensation of riding a unicycle a million miles away. Driving the QB, though, was a very intuitive experience, and the robot's LIDAR obstacle-sensing system prevented it from crashing into people and walls, even when I wanted it to. … Read more