What it's like to be a robot in an office

Today I experienced what it’s like to be a robot. Instead of feet I had wheels, instead of braving the world to speak to people, I remained seated at the safety of my desk.

My new robo-body was delivered to the reception of our office. All I had to do was download the app and drive it back to my desk. If it worked, I would never have to leave my chair again.

Life through the app is something else. I get to see everything the robot sees, only with Gameboy-like controls overlaying it all.

Time to get moving.

I quickly realise this is not so simple.

Getting around the Business Insider newsroom as a robot is a minefield. There are standing desks, sitting desks, bags, big feet, all waiting to trip an unsuspecting telecommuter. And to make matters more difficult, my robot doesn’t appear to have depth perception. The iPad camera can’t show me how far away any of these hazards are.

Then there are the people. They’re everywhere. Congregating in the walkways, jumping out from my blinds spots, sitting at their desks. And never without their phones. They didn’t seem to take a liking to the new version of myself. Even though I wasn’t actually there, I’ve never felt so many stares. Instead of conversations, all people want to do is to take selfies with me. This is not productive.

Later in the day I decided to brave the robot once more, using it for its actual purpose, and have a face-to-face meeting with my editor. A man whose desk abuts mine, and who I normally need do little to look in the eyes. Through the obstacle course once more! My new wheels are so silent they never know I’m coming.

Of course, the conversation doesn’t extend much further than how odd it is to be Skyping into what looks like a screen attached to a broom. It’s no cakewalk being the one maneuvering the robot either. There are lots of buttons and levers overlaying the person you’re talking to. I accidentally turn up the volume and, once again, I’m drawing all kinds of unwanted attention from colleagues left and right.

Now people actually want to have a go. Business Insider journalist Sarah Kimmorley takes the controls and goes to visit people a couple of rows down, almost bumping into a couple of those standing desks along the way.

I told you. No depth perception.

Sarah Kimmorley taking the robot for a spin

Campbell Simpson from Gizmodo had a whirl as well, guiding it expertly back to the safety of our little bolthole. We’ve thoroughly disrupted the entire office now. Everyone wants to know what it is, who it is. Whether it’s the same robot that they saw on Big Bang Theory (I believe it might be).

I was given this robot by a company called Atomic212. Their CEO, Jason Dooris, is the master of never having to physically be somewhere thanks to his robots. He has used them to attend board meetings while on holiday. And, of course, he shipped this robot here so he wouldn’t have to leave his office when I interviewed him.

The people at his office seem equally comfortable. Dooris told me a story of going to the copy machine to find three robots hunched around, in a conference. A robot conference. Even while we were having our chat one of his colleagues zipped by on their telecommuting robot. Off on some unknown mission.

Jason Dooris, CEO of Atomic212

It seems entirely reasonable to come to the office as a robot when Dooris talks about it, and he seems perfectly at ease at our conference table as a four-foot robot. But my short stretches of robot-ing were just weird. I can’t get my head around it.

It’s not that I don’t like being dependent on the kindness of strangers to operate elevators or get down stairs. Or that I already have enough battery anxiety in my life. It’s that I’m weird enough, even without my face zipping around at the head of a robot.

Being a robot is too much of a novelty to be practical in 2015. I just want my body back. Maybe I’ll try again in another 10 years.

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