When Trevor Blackwell, CEO of a company called Anybots, wants to know what his employees are up to, he sends a robot to their cubicles.
“I can see if people are busy on something — and then won’t interrupt them,” he said this week. “Or, you know, if they’re doing something that looks interesting, or if they look stuck, I’ll have a conversation with them.”
This isn’t your standard “Office Space” conversation. Blackwell boots up a “telepresence robot” — which looks like a combination between a Segway and Johnny 5 from those “Short Circuit” movies — to talk to his employees from his home, 10 miles from Anybots’ office in Mountain Home, California.
The 5-foot-6, 35-pound robot contains a video camera, a still camera and a microphone. From a laptop, Blackwell can see everything the robot sees. He hears what the robot hears. And, when he talks, the robot projects his voice.
He drives the robot, called QB, with his computer keyboard. A sensor stops it from running into doors and tables. The robot zips around at 3.5 miles per hour, and its battery lasts up to 8 hours, or the length of a typical human workday, he said.
Blackwell says that this is how the office of tomorrow will work. Within a year or so, he says, every office in Silicon Valley, California, will have about one telepresence robot for every 10 employees.
Anybots’ QB robot is available for pre-order now. It ships to customers in the fall.
At $15,000, the QB is designed for commercial clients now, Blackwell said, but he thinks consumer robots aren’t too far off. People could use them to go on remote vacations, he said, touring the streets of a faraway country or interacting with the locals without ever leaving their bedrooms.
CNN spoke with Blackwell about the QB, the robot-laden future of the modern American office and robot-commuting etiquette. The following is an edited transcript.
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