Last August, I wrote about Anybots’ QB, a $15,000 remote-presence robot that lets distant workers attend meetings, hang out with coworkers, and generally behave as if they were in the office. (It’s essentially a fancy remote-controllable Webcam on wheels.) At the time, QB was in beta testing and was supposed to be available for purchase by the fall. Anybots’ schedule slipped: the bot is only now starting to ship. But it’s gained some features which I could have used when I gave a QB a whirl, including seamless Wi-Fi roaming, two-way video streaming using the display in its “forehead,” and high-resolution zooming.
QB’s major competitor seems to be vGo, a somewhat simpler $5,000 robot which did start shipping last fall. (I met a vGo last month when it cohosted the Last Gadget Standing event at CES with Robin Raskin, Jon Heim, Gary Dell’Abate, and myself.)
In either form, I’m a believer in the basic concept–and I think the day will come when QB, vGo, and/or their competitors and descendents will inhabit plenty of workplaces and nobody will even blink. I sure wish they had existed back when I worked in PC World’s Boston office and wasted countless hours trying to track down my San Francisco coworkers via telephone, and “attending” meetings by speakerphone which didn’t make much sense because I could (kind off) hear what was going on but couldn’t see. I could have been a lot more proactive and productive if I’d been able to tool around the office in robotic form…