There's a big meeting across the country. What do you do?
1960: You fly there.
1980: You have a conference call.
2000: You do a video conference.
2010: You fire up your robot avatar at the location.
Pardon? Yep, it's for real, folks. A company called Anybots has created a prototype of a robot that will serve as a person's physical presence in a remote location. You log in through the Internet and after a few keystrokes the 'bot, called QB, comes alive, leaving its charging station and ready to meet, brainstorm, greet visitors or just generally creep people out.
QB looks kind of like a Segway, with a pair of LIDAR-guided wheels and a 5-megapixel camera up top on the "boom," which extends up about five to six feet (it can be adjusted shorter). There's also a small screen at the "head" that can show a webcam view of the user (or just an icon or photo). Communication and control are done over Wi-Fi.
The robot avatar isn't actually meant to replace videoconferencing, but the idea is to be able to participate in more than just meetings. With QB, you can observe a workplace, participate more directly in tasks, or just be there for those casual conversations — all from thousands of miles away. At least in theory.
In practice, there's still the creep factor to contend with. The Anybots folks, some of whom helped create our friend Pleo, dropped by DVICE HQ with the QB prototype a few days ago. We didn't actually get to see the 'bot in action, but we had a hard time getting over the weirdness of having a skinny Segway standing at the table next to us.
Still, we can't deny the usefulness of being able to see an entire workplace — as opposed to just a conference room — anytime at the touch of a few buttons. It's hard to see that many companies ponying up the $15,000 for one of these, though the few that do will no doubt find it invaluable. And even if I may not be able to think of what I'd do with it, I kind of want one. Hold on, did I just describe the iPad?
Anybots says QB will be available this fall.