Telepresence robots aren't much more than Skype bots on wheels, right? That's what we thought before taking part in a scavenger hunt this week using the Anybots QB telepresence robot—an attractive bot set to go on sale this fall for $15,000. The challenge was simple enough: from the comfort of our laptops, a group of us were asked to complete a series of tasks around the Anybots office in Mountain View, California using QB robots as our proxies.
Before the challenge even got underway, we had issues Internet connection issues with our assigned QB bot. After troubleshooting for a moment, we switched to a different bot that worked smoothly. This is what we imagine will be one of the biggest hurdles for QB and all telepresence bots. Any break in Internet connection on either end can result in frustration—especially if, say, a QB bot is in the middle of making a presentation.
It took only a minute or two orient ourselves with QB's controls—the bot can roll in all directions, move a laser pointer with the click of the mouse, sit down, and stand up. A small screen inset on the larger screen showing QB's movements depicts the ground below. This feature helps avoid collisions with inanimate objects.
QB performed surprisingly well in an agility test. We zipped around obstacles and only required human assistance once when our bot became sandwiched between two benches. QB didn't falter even when we accidently rolled over a tangle of wires.
We didn't have any problems with QB's sound, but screen glare made it difficult to look at images on a white board and on an LCD screen.
Overall, we were surprised at how much zipping around with a telepresence bot can feel like actually being in a room. The 35 pound, lithium ion battery-powered bot isn't all that intrusive for people on the other end, either—it has a friendly face and a thin pole-like body that can maneuver through tight spaces. We probably wouldn't send QB to take our place at a party, but the bot could be incredibly useful for companies with staff scattered around the globe.