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Sunday, October 18, 2015

I am the office robot

Follow on Twitter as @EmilyDreyfuss

Emily Dreyfuss reports, "Hello. I am a disembodied metal moving machine with an iPad for a face."

I have been part robot since May. Instead of legs, I move on gyroscopically stabilized wheels. Instead of a face, I have an iPad screen. Instead of eyes, a camera with no peripheral vision. And instead of ears, a tinny microphone that crackles and hisses with every high note.

Photo: The Week Magazine

I'm a remote worker; while most of Wired is in San Francisco, I live in Boston. We IM. We talk on the phone. We tweet at each other, but I am often left out of crucial face-to-face meetings, spontaneous brainstorm sessions, gossip in the kitchen.

So my boss found a solution: a telepresence robot from Double Robotics, which would be my physical embodiment at headquarters. Specifically, an iPad on a stick on a Segway-like base. The telepresence-robot market is crowded, ranging from high-end offerings like iRobot's Ava (starting price: $69K) to the relatively affordable Double, which starts at $2,499. The company says it has sold nearly 5,000 of them since its launch in 2012.

The first time I opened the Double interface in Chrome and clicked on an icon of my robot 3,000 miles away, I was greeted by the pixelated image of my boss's torso and a few headless co-workers. There probably were some instructions somewhere that I should have read, but hadn't. I clicked around. Nothing. I tried the arrow keys and, boom, jolted out of the robot's charging dock and toward the onlookers. I was like a foal, learning to walk.

Before I ever tried the robot, I was sure I would hate the thing. I thought it would make me small and flat and foolish. I thought it would be annoying to deal with, would require me to wear pants. (Something we remote workers often don't do, world!) I thought it would make me a novelty, a sideshow, a joke.

When I booted up, some of my original fears were realized: I was disoriented and silly and helpless. I was a spectacle. People ogled and took pictures. I felt like a dog, the recipient of gawking smiles. But, more importantly, I was surprised to find, being a robot is delightful. It's thrilling. I was in the office! There was the kitchen! There was Sam! Hi, everyone! I am here!
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Source: The Week Magazine


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