Fun, Games and Work: Telepresence Robots

Companies talk about “Gamification,” but the first time I felt like I was playing a game at work was driving our Double telepresence robot around the office floor, rolling down the hallway and poking into cubicles. With a few simple controls—forward, backward, left, and right—it took me back to the D-pad on my NES, trying to maneuver some creature or robot on the screen and avoid obstacles.

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It’s really a drone, but so much less stressful than controlling a quadcopter. For one, you can stay put without issue. Two, it’s not loud. And three, there aren’t any safety precautions preventing us from driving this around inside Oracle buildings.

Of course, this isn’t the intended use. It’s a telepresence robot, something that allows you to be more “present” in a meeting or at some remote site than you would be if you were just a face on a laptop—or even more invisibly—a (mostly silent) voice on a conference call. You can instead be a face on a robot, one that you control.

That initial drive wouldn’t have been nearly as fun (or funny) if I were just cruising around the floor and no one else was there. A lot of the enjoyment was from seeing how people reacted to the robot and talking to them about it.

It is a little disruptive, though that may wear off over time. Fellow AppsLab member Noel (@noelportugal) drove it into a meeting, and the whole crowd got a kick out of it. I could see throughout the meeting others gazing at the robot with a bit of wonder. And when Noel drove the robot behind someone, they noted how it felt like they were being watched. But no one forgot Noel was in the meeting—there was an actual presence that made it feel he was much more a part of the group than if we were just on the phone.

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On another virtual walkaround, Noel met up with Mark (@mvikrokx) and they had a real work conversation about some hardware they had been emailing back and forth about, and being able to talk “face” to “face” made it much more productive.

All this provokes many interesting questions—is a telepresence robot better than video conferencing? How so, and by how much? How long does it take for the robot to seem “normal” and just become a part of a standard meeting?

And of course—what would a meeting be like that consisted solely of telepresence robots?

3 comments

  1. Also I am curious how the audio/visual experience is for the person “inhabiting” the robot aka Noel in your example. Is it a superior experience than the video/audio you get from telepresence on a laptop/mobile device? I think that’s an important factor too.

    Plus the ability for the participant to move themselves (or their robot avatar) around will give them autonomy of improving the audio/visual, right? Instead of asking someone “can you speak closer to the mike” you can just move your robot closer to the speaker? Or is that inaccurate?

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