What looks like an iPad on a stick with wheels, rolls through office buildings without incident, costs $3,000 each and may change the way we look at telecommuting forever? It's the Double 2 from Double Robotics, and it's taking the notion of a telepresence robot a lot farther than some may have expected.
The notion of a telepresence robot is simple enough; instead of telecommuters being reduced to faceless drones pounding away at assignments from the other side of the globe, workers can instead have a face to go with the name, commonly mounted atop a three-foot-tall stake rolling autonomously around the office. This gives the telecommuter a chance to physically join in at meetings, get face time with other employees and even join a conversation.
The telecommuter, meanwhile, controls the robot from his or her own keyboard at the current location, and can both see and hear what's going on in front of the robot thanks to the mounted camera in the tablet that's displaying the user's face. Stability controls help ensure the robot can safely move over power cords without falling over, and a power drive system allows for higher speeds and faster movement.
Double Robotics brought out its new version at last week's Consumer Electronics Show (CES) event, and hopes that the exhibition might draw in some new users, along with getting current users to step up operations. The company has sold over 5,000 such systems at last report, and expects the sales to “spike”, according to Double Robotics CEO David Cann, with the new release.
It's possibly one of the better telepresence robots we've seen, if it still doesn't go too far from the “iPad-on-a-stick” style. Though it's worth asking if such a thing is really necessary to begin with; we've come a long way in establishing the notion that work isn't a place one goes to but rather a thing one does, and telepresence robots seem like such a step backward in that notion. While there's always something to be said for office politics and access to the grapevine, is shelling out $3,000 so one telecommuter's face can occasionally be seen and voice heard really such a great idea? That $3,000 could augment the contact center and provide a better customer experience, make a trade show presence happen and drive some new customer contacts, or even just provide what “Dilbert” calls “healthy and life-affirming raises” to employees who may not have seen them in years.
Still, for those who want to bring telecommuters a little closer into the fold and put a face and voice to a name, robots like the Double 2 should more than do the job. Though more than a few will likely ask if the job needed doing in the first place.