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My Life as a Telecommuting Robot

August 14, 2012 | Telepresence Options


By Rachel Emma Silverman, The Wall Street Journal

I was strolling down the hall to a meeting on a Wednesday afternoon when I suddenly blacked out, coming to a halt. Stopping by a colleague's desk to say hello, I never saw the Nerf ball he aimed at my cranium. Later, when an editor absently patted my head as he passed by, I crashed to the floor.

Thus went my short, eventful life as QB-82, a wheeled, skinny robot that can reach a height of more than six feet. On the QB-82, my face and voice appeared via the robot's 3.5-inch video screen. Using my laptop's arrow keys, I navigated around the Journal's headquarters--becoming a kind of chatty, whirring, stick-figure colleague.

Its maker, Anybots Inc., says such telepresence robots enable far-flung workers to collaborate with peers and log face time at the office--still crucial for getting ahead, recent studies have found.

As a remote worker based for years in Austin, Texas, the idea of being two places at once sounded intriguing. I communicate with my New York-based editors and co-workers via email, phone and occasional Skype chats, but maybe "botting" could be better.

A robot remotely controlled by Austin-based reporter Rachel Emma Silverman talks to New York-based colleague, Leslie Kwoh, right.

Over several weeks this summer, for a few hours a day, I used the QB to bot into the Wall Street Journal's newsroom from my home office.telecommutingrobot.jpg

Rolling around on a Segway-like wheeled base, with a video screen and camera embedded in my "head," I could see and hear my co-workers, who likewise had a portal into my home office life, complete with cameos from my kids and occasional barks from my dog, Bosco.
Journal Community
 

The robot made me feel closer to distant colleagues. But is it the future of work?

The workforce is increasingly mobile and spread out, but our jobs require more collaboration than ever before. Sales of "telepresence" and videoconferencing systems, from companies such as Cisco Systems Inc.,  Polycom Inc. and Logitech International unit LifeSize, were about $3 billion world-wide in 2011, a 34% increase from the $2.2 billion the previous year, according to Infonetics Research, an industry tracker.

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