Thanks to the folks at Double Robotics, I’ve been enjoying a cushy, comfortable work life from anywhere I want while maintaining a physical interactive presence at Business Insider’s world headquarters.
This is what I look like at work lately:
Double is a telecommuter’s dream come true. Technology can make so much of the tedium of workplace communication far more manageable — you’ve got your email, AIM, or heaven forbid, an old-fashioned phone call — but for those occasions where an in-person conversation is required, or when you actually need to see something (e.g. a conference or convention), we now have the Double telepresence robot.
“Telepresence” is hardly a new idea — it’s just a souped-up name given to a collection of technologies enabling you to have a “presence” somewhere else, a window of picture and sound. Cisco even has an entire arm of its business built on this, selling devices ranging from small Internet-connected phones with video capabilities to huge “immersive telepresence” systems that take up a board room wall.
Double isn’t the first company to pair telepresence with robotics, but it’s the first to do so in an intuitive and non-threatening way. They’ve done the hard stuff already. All you need to add to the recipe is your iPad. Get it connected to the Internet, pair it to the robot via Bluetooth, and start up the Double app on the iPad. That’s it! You can now navigate the thing from anywhere with an Internet connection, speaking and gesticulating to people just as you normally would.
Once set up, I found the navigation to be a little clunky on an iPad’s touchscreen, preferring to steer it from a computer keyboard given a couple decades of “practice” with computer games.
There’s a slight learning curve to the spatial awareness aspect of this — you will run into people or otherwise find ways to make the robot fall over, but that’s quickly remedied after 15 minutes or so of practice. A mirror in the Double’s iPad frame lets you use the iPad’s rear-facing camera to instead look down at the robot’s wheels, HUGELY beneficial for negotiating tight spaces. With practice, my method became to steer using keyboard keys and to switch to the downward view (it only takes the press of a spacebar) every 15 or 20 seconds to be extra-sure I wasn’t bumping into things.
Double’s height is adjustable to two positions. The raised position is a good height for others to see you and speak to you when you’re in a meeting or largely stationary. The lowered position drops the Double’s center of gravity, making it a bit speedier and more suited for getting around, topping out at one mile per hour.
Double absolutely shines in meetings. Even if you are half a world away, you still take up physical space, can turn to whoever’s speaking, and make eye contact with your esteemed colleagues. Conference calling is already the unsexiest form of communication, but after using Double, it’s just gross.
The minor-but-mentionable novelty of “Hey, I’m there but I’m not!” can’t be overstated. It’s fun! Look at all this fun!
This is a $US2,500 robot that does one thing — moves an iPad around an environment. I genuinely believe that it does this one thing very well, but I’d love to see the price come down. That’s my only real dig of substance here. There’s the previously mentioned issue of getting acquainted with the robot and figure out just how much space you take up, but that disappears after just a little time.
I can’t fault Double. It does exactly what it set out to do.
Rounding it up
I loved how easy this was to use from beginning to end.
Double allows an unparalleled degree of flexibility when it comes to needing to be places. I loved working from my couch and desk at home while remotely wheeling a robot around the BI office, some 10 miles away. I was attending Manhattan meetings from Brooklyn, conversing with everyone in realtime and making literal eye contact from miles away without any problems to speak of. I could’ve just as easily been in Singapore or on a Wi-Fi-enabled flight.
While I didn’t have the opportunity to take any meetings in my robot form with people who weren’t expecting it, I hope to shortly.
You’ve so far only heard my take on things, but what’s it like to have a robot coworker and be on the other side the iPad’s unblinking eye? I turn you to Karyne Levy, Senior Editor and rad lady of Business Insider, who told me the following:
I usually get freaked out whenever I FaceTime/Skype someone, which is why I barely ever do it. But for some reason, talking to an iPad/person on a stand feels much more natural. I think that’s probably because it doesn’t require me to carry around a mobile device and awkwardly hold it up to my face. The second day, when you joined us in the meeting, it wasn’t even that weird anymore.
If the price doesn’t throw you and you’re still interested, then this seems like a no-brainer addition to your workplace. The first person to outfit a Double with a portable hotspot and drive it across the country wins my heart.