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. Instead of a mouth, a speaker whose volume I can?t even gauge with my own ears. And instead of ears, a tinny microphone that crackles and hisses with every high note.
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, extending myself through technology. 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 more affordable Double, which starts at $2,499. The company says it has sold nearly 5,000 of them since its launch in 2012. Mostly these go to big corporations like IBM and McDonald?s, but I?ve heard of teachers and hospitals using them, too. Supposedly all a Double needs to work is a strong Wi-Fi signal.
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 coworkers. There probably were some instructions somewhere that I should have read, but I didn?t. ?How do I move it?? I asked them. ?We don?t know,? they said. I clicked around. Nothing. I tried the arrow keys and, boom, jolted out of the robot?s charging dock and toward onlookers. I was like a foal, learning to walk. It took about 10 minutes to discover that a) driving a robot using a browser interface is clunky and b) the hip flooring choices of WIRED?s office were going to be my nemesis, with every transition from concrete to rubber to carpet providing another opportunity to fall on my screen.
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