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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 the U.S. Army Is Turning Robots Into Team Players

Engineers battle the limits of deep learning for battlefield bots

11 min read
Robot with threads near a fallen branch

RoMan, the Army Research Laboratory's robotic manipulator, considers the best way to grasp and move a tree branch at the Adelphi Laboratory Center, in Maryland.

Evan Ackerman
LightGreen

“I should probably not be standing this close," I think to myself, as the robot slowly approaches a large tree branch on the floor in front of me. It's not the size of the branch that makes me nervous—it's that the robot is operating autonomously, and that while I know what it's supposed to do, I'm not entirely sure what it will do. If everything works the way the roboticists at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL) in Adelphi, Md., expect, the robot will identify the branch, grasp it, and drag it out of the way. These folks know what they're doing, but I've spent enough time around robots that I take a small step backwards anyway.

This article is part of our special report on AI, “The Great AI Reckoning.”

The robot, named RoMan, for Robotic Manipulator, is about the size of a large lawn mower, with a tracked base that helps it handle most kinds of terrain. At the front, it has a squat torso equipped with cameras and depth sensors, as well as a pair of arms that were harvested from a prototype disaster-response robot originally developed at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory for a DARPA robotics competition. RoMan's job today is roadway clearing, a multistep task that ARL wants the robot to complete as autonomously as possible. Instead of instructing the robot to grasp specific objects in specific ways and move them to specific places, the operators tell RoMan to "go clear a path." It's then up to the robot to make all the decisions necessary to achieve that objective.

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