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October 16, 2013

Telecommuters Now May Use a Robot to Meet with Colleagues in the Office

It’s clear that more employees and employers are using telecommuting as a workplace option.

The number of workers who have opted to telecommute increased a whopping 79.7 percent between 2005 and 2012, a new study said. Also, the telecommuting sector is projected to jump to 3.9 million by 2016, according to Global Workplace Analytics. That represents a 21-percent increase from the current number of telecommuters.

Given this trend, robotics technology is being offered to help workers who are located at home or elsewhere during the workday.

Double Robotics provides telecommuters a robotics “physical presence” in their offices, which lets them speak to work colleagues at any time. Double is a mobile teleconferencing device that is controlled remotely. Also, it works via an iPad, which users must provide. They also need to provide an Internet connection. It can be driven by an iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, or desktop Chrome Web browser. Also, a rechargeable Lithium Ion battery provides up to eight hours of use. Users also can drive the device via a 4G or LTE connection on an iPhone, according to a recent Double Robotics blog post.

Exactly how does it work?

In a recent review from MacWorld, Double was described as “an iPad stand on wheels. The ‘head’ provides a snug fit for a regular-sized iPad… The iPad connects to Double via Bluetooth, and the iPad’s camera and microphone provide video and audio to the controller.”

An obvious question is why bother to use a robot to talk with work colleagues; why not just use something like Skype or Google Hangout?

“A telepresence robot offers one major advantage: mobility,” the review by Roman Loyola explains. “It allows the user to move through a workplace instead of having coworkers gather in a meeting room to use a fixed videoconferencing computer—in a production environment, having one robot moving around instead of a group of folks could be better for productivity.”

Also, the company argues remote workers may find it “difficult” to “schedule a call or ask someone to set up a laptop for video chat.”

“Having your own Double in the office means you can be free to roam around anywhere without having to schedule a meeting. Double takes everything you love about video calls on an iPad and puts that on a mobile base that puts the remote worker in control. Your Double is always on, ready to take you anywhere you need to go,” the company adds.

In addition, the Double Robotics server allows for commands and video, which travels to the controller, is encrypted. It uses the WebRTC 128-bit AES encrypted video standard. And the device has a mirror on the head for the iPad’s rear camera when it needs to look toward the floor or at the robot’s wheels. Double’s height is between 47 and 60 inches. It travels slower at higher lengths, the review said.

The system is easy to use, too, according to Loyola. “To control the robot, you need another iPad or an iPhone and the free iOS app for iPhone or iPad, or you can use the Web-based controls via Google Chrome. (The WebTRC protocol that Double uses isn’t supported by Safari.) You tap the up and down arrows to go forward and backwards, and the right and left arrow buttons to turn in the respective directions. When using Google Chrome, you can use the arrow keys on your computer's keyboard,” the review adds.

On the down side, the robotics device can disrupt your work colleagues and may even be seen as “creepy,” the review said.

Also, the price of about $2,500 seems to be competitive given the options -- it could be another $1,000 for two iPads; one for the Double and one for the controller. Though, iPad 2s for $399 may save on the expenses.

If you’re considering a robot to stay in touch with your office, Double provides the technology.

Edited by Rachel Ramsey
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