Telepresence robots set to transform workplaces

A telepresence robot monitors an office environment. Image courtesy of Double Robotics
A telepresence robot monitors an office environment. Image courtesy of Double Robotics

Among the many robotic devices shown off at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2016, one group of new communications robots are some of the most interesting.

So-called ‘telepresence’ robots allow a remote user to monitor an office or other working space through a portable video link.

The user controls the movement of the robot in order to physically ‘see’ what is going on in an office, while at the same time, a monitor built into the ‘head’ of the robot allows those within the office to see the user.

The idea being that these robots will allow for an office manager to communicate with and monitor staff more effectively, even when physically distant form the office.

The Double 2

Shown off for the first time at CES 2016, the Double 2 telepresence robot – manufactured by Double Robotics – is one of the most advanced devices of its type so far.

This robot integrates with an Apple iPad as its ‘screen’, while at the same time uses an advanced camera attachment to enable HD video streaming to the remote user, as well as variable fields of view.

Additionally, the robot which is functionally similar to a Segway, has been upgraded to both travel faster around an office environment and navigate over common obstacles without tipping.

The office of the future

The Double 2 is currently being sold for US$2,500, leaving it out of reach to all but the wealthiest of companies. Nonetheless, as these technologies develop and the price comes down, robotic telepresence could begin to transform workplaces.

Already many service sector jobs could easily be done remotely, and often coming to a physical office is only necessary for meetings and group discussions.

The use of these robots removes the need for all of the workers to be physically present and thus could potentially give employees far more freedom to work from home.

While there will be significant cultural reluctance to this, the massive productivity and efficiency benefits from such a transformation will make it eventually unavoidable.

As well, similar technology could eventually be used in a number of other workplaces, such as factories and power plants enabling workers to monitor dangerous environments at no risk to themselves.