Do you need a receptionist at your company? Are you having trouble affording another employee? Do you like spending time with robots more than humans? If you answered yes to any of these questions (or all of them), you might want to check out a brand new service being offered by Anybots called AnyLobby that will solve all your problems.
Anybots' QB telepresence robot is famous for ordering scones, gambling in Vegas, taking repeated punches to the face, and hosting certain robotics blog editors. QB has a self-balancing mobile base with a bunch of sophisticated mobile videoconferencing hardware on top, and using a computer with an Internet connection, you can take control of a QB robot anywhere in the world, driving it around, seeing through its eyes, and interacting with people just like you were there yourself. Or, almost. That's the idea, anyway.
Now, Anybots is offering an entirely new service called AnyLobby that leverages the telepresence capabilities of QB to offer full-time telepresence staff to companies who might not otherwise be able to afford a real live human. Here's the idea: For about US $2,400 a month, Anybots will send you a QB robot, and a professional human will log in to the robot and be available as a receptionist or an assistant for 40 hours a week. The human on the other end can be physically located anywhere with good Internet, and for locations with only intermittent need, one human can control multiple QBs, saving everybody time and money. GetRobo talked with one of these human receptionists (via a QB) named Angela:
"We can do a lot of things," Angela says. QB doesn't have arms, but thanks to digital technology, she doesn't have any trouble scanning the fax and printing documents. The only thing she can't do is provide her signature when a package arrives, but the companies she works for have set up protocols for that -- "Call Bob when there's a package."
Oftentimes robots are thought as something that can take away jobs, but Angela disagrees. "That is not the case here. It is creating jobs for small towns with high unemployment rates."
Anybots is hoping that these "virtual employees" that AnyLobby provides will offer flexible options for small companies who might not otherwise be able to afford a 100 percent old-fashioned home-grown human being. And there's lots of potential here: It could be extended to other experts as well. Need some on-site tech support? Just find a qualified person from anywhere in the world and they can have a physical presence right there with you immediately. Telepresence robots won't be completely replacing humans anytime soon, but if they can offer a significant percentage of the advantages of being somewhere in person for a fraction of the cost and inconvenience they might make a viable alternative in plenty of useful situations.
Evan Ackerman is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Since 2007, he has written over 6,000 articles on robotics and technology. He has a degree in Martian geology and is excellent at playing bagpipes.