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Anybots QB Telepresence Robot Lets You Be At the Office ... Without Being There

Anybots QB is an advanced mobile robot that you can control from anywhere to talk and collaborate with your coworkers. Is this the future of work?

3 min read
Anybots QB Telepresence Robot Lets You Be At the Office ... Without Being There

anybots qb

Meet QB. This skinny alien-looking robot may soon replace you at work.

But don’t worry. It doesn’t want your job. QB is a robotic stand-in for workers. You control it remotely as a videoconference system on wheels. Embodied as a QB, you can attend meetings, drop by a coworker’s office, even confab at the water cooler.

You can control your robotic self from anywhere using a computer connected to the Net. It’s a bit like the recent Bruce Willis movie Surrogates. Except QB is less, uh, muscular.

Anybots, a robotics start-up in Mountain View, Calif., is officially unveiling the telepresence robot today. QB will be available in the fall for US $15,000.

"We wanted to create a technology that allows remote workers to collaborate more fully -- and feel part of the team," founder and CEO Trevor Blackwell told me when we spoke a few weeks ago.

What they created is a sophisticated mobile robot. Its base houses a compact computer, two Wi-Fi interfaces, a LIDAR-based collision-detection system, powerful motors, and a lithium-ion battery pack that lasts 8 hours, or enough for a full day of work.

The head has a 5-megapixel video camera pointing forward, a lower resolution camera pointing down at an angle to help with driving, three microphone and high-quality speakers, and -- my favorite feature -- a laser pointer that shoots green light from one of its eyes.

The 16-kilogram robot [35 pounds] rolls on two wheels using a custom self-balancing system, an approach that Blackwell says is more power-efficient, lets the robot drive over bumps, and has proved quite stable. QB can rotate around its vertical axis, easily take turns, and drive at 5.6 kilometers per hour [3.5 mph].

[youtube //www.youtube.com/v/oN1lQcJHpO8&hl=en_US&fs=1& expand=1]

Anybots says "robocommuting" could not only improve collaboration but also save companies' time and money. Employees can work from home or other locations and reduce commute and travel.

But the question I -- and I guess many other people -- might ask themselves is, Why do you need a robot if you have pretty decent videoconference systems? Cisco Systems, the leader in this area, even uses the term "telepresence" for its products (Jack Bauer is a major "customer," by the way.)

"Videoconference is confined to structured environments like conference rooms," says Bob Christopher, Anybots' COO. "We want people to talk and interact in non-structured environments, anywhere."

"With QB," he adds, "you can continue talking to your colleagues after you left the conference room."

To use QB you don’t need to add any extra hardware to the office -- all it needs is a Wi-Fi network. The robot connects to it like any computer and sends and receives video and commands over the Net.

Controlling the robot requires only a Firefox browser and a plug-in from Anybots. You log in and instantly start seeing and hearing what the robot is seeing and hearing.

It’s not Star Trek teleportation, but "incarnating" a robotic body is quite an experience.

I had a chance to try it and will report on my tests in an upcoming feature article in IEEE Spectrum and here on this blog. In the mean time, let us know: Is robotic telepresence the future of work?

QB Specs:
8 hours of battery life
5 megapixel video camera
Supports Wi-Fi 802.11g
3.5 mph normal cruise speed
Price: US $15,000
Availability: Fall 2010

More photos:


Laser shoots from the right eye.


Docked on the recharging station.

anybots qb


Retracted neck, ready to travel.

Photos and video: Anybots

The Conversation (0)

How Robots Can Help Us Act and Feel Younger

Toyota’s Gill Pratt on enhancing independence in old age

10 min read
An illustration of a woman making a salad with robotic arms around her holding vegetables and other salad ingredients.
Dan Page
Blue

By 2050, the global population aged 65 or more will be nearly double what it is today. The number of people over the age of 80 will triple, approaching half a billion. Supporting an aging population is a worldwide concern, but this demographic shift is especially pronounced in Japan, where more than a third of Japanese will be 65 or older by midcentury.

Toyota Research Institute (TRI), which was established by Toyota Motor Corp. in 2015 to explore autonomous cars, robotics, and “human amplification technologies,” has also been focusing a significant portion of its research on ways to help older people maintain their health, happiness, and independence as long as possible. While an important goal in itself, improving self-sufficiency for the elderly also reduces the amount of support they need from society more broadly. And without technological help, sustaining this population in an effective and dignified manner will grow increasingly difficult—first in Japan, but globally soon after.

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