Who Needs Work-Life Balance When You Can Have a Robot?
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The Fiscal Times
January 28, 2014

You don't need superpowers to be in two places at once. In today’s world, you can go almost anywhere you want by sending a robot in your place. Your robotic self can serve as a proxy at long business meetings, hold your spot in line at the DMV, or attend a high school reunion on your behalf. 

Santa Clara, California-based “Anybots” is one of a handful of robotics companies that has developed a telepresence robot that allows you to “be present” and maneuver around in one location while you are physcially hundreds of miles away.

Related: The Rise of Robots and Decline of Jobs is Here

Think of it as Skype on wheels. Anybot’s “QB Avatar” displays your face on a webcam mounted to an adjustable poll that’s attached to a Segway-like platform. It stands about five feet nine inches tall—or eye level —vaguely giving it some human-like qualities. The computer screen transmits a live feed of your face, while you receive a live video and audio stream of your robot’s surroundings.

“With virtual presence, you are able to move through a space somewhere else on the globe as if you were there, walking from room to room. You can see and be seen, hear and be heard, and go where you choose,” the company’s website says.

The robot can be controlled from any location by simply using a web browser and logging onto the Anybot’s website. From there it can be steered with controls on your computers’ keyboard.

Telepresence robots have been rolling their way into the professional world in the past few years, and they are likely to keep coming. ABI research estimates that the worldwide telepresence market is going to hit $13.1 billion by the end of 2016, according to Forbes.

Companies like RoboDynamics and DoubleRobotics have already invested millions of dollars into developing robots similar to Anybot’s QB that have been purchased by Fortune 500 companies for a variety of uses. For example, some are used by business executives to attend meetings around the world while staying in their home-offices, while others are used to let doctors conduct bedside consultations to patients in distant places.

Related: Why Robots are Worse for the Economy Than You Think

However, their use isn’t limited to the office. These robots are starting to show up at places like weddings and parties, and even in the home.

Noland Katter, business development executive at Anybots, said he uses his to hang out with his son when he’s out of town for work.

“My favorite time using the QB so far was probably taking my son Trick-or-Treating last Halloween when I was away on business,” Katter said. His QB is almost a member of the family. His 63-year-old mother uses it to spend time with her grandson, he said. “They are very user-friendly. It took her about 10 minutes to log in and start controlling it,” Katter said.

AnyBot’s robots cost about $9,700, but the company also rents the QB’s out for special events like bar mitzvahs, reunions and wedding receptions, as listed on their website. They have already sold or rented out the units to companies, universities and even individual consumers. One couple from Santa Cruz, Calif., rented out the robots so their friends in New Zealand wouldn’t miss out on their wedding day, as featured in The New York Times.

Katter predicted that robots like the QB will grow more mainstream as early as 2015.

“At first, people are a little stand-offish when interacting with the robots,” he explained. “But the current model is very approachable. People are drawn to it. And pretty soon you forget you’re talking to a robot, since there’s someone on the other end”

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Washington Correspondent Brianna Ehley, based in D.C., covers Congress, government agencies and spending issues, health care, and tax and economic policy for The Fiscal Times.