Adventures with a telepresence robot, part one

Last week as I was squirreled away in the scrum room working, I heard a soft whirl and bumps. I looked over to see coworkers having fun with a robot.  A telepresence robot.

I was first introduced—virtually that is—to these types of robots at my last job when I edited an application note about an engineer’s experience using one. I had never actually interacted with one in person before.

This one is a different model but the same basic concept. The base is a cylinder that provides locomotion. Gyroscopes inside the cylinder are in constant motion, keeping the robot upright. The body is broomstick-like, topped with an iPad that shows a video view of the remote coworker. The remote coworker controls the robot’s movements.

The robot teetered precariously as it attempted to cross the threshold from a carpeted room to the non-carpeted scrum room. A chorus of “whoas” emanated from the coterie of coworkers accompanying it on its journey around our open floor.

After a bit of banter, the robot turned on its heels (so to speak) and sped away. That was my introduction to our telepresence robot. I was to have many more encounters.

Later in the day, I heard a large thunk and then a roar of laughter from my coworkers. It turns out that the battery had suddenly died. And with it, the robot. It fell forward, face first.

Monday morning I entered my workspace later than normal. Late enough that a number of coworkers were already at work and milling about. And my coworker in France was wheeling around. It was kind of funky seeing his cheery face on the iPad face of the robot. Here and there he went, bidding time until our daily team meeting.

Since then, the robot has been present in our midst until midday, when our French coworker’s workday comes to an end. Then the robot stands eerily quiet, suddenly discarded in a random spot on the floor.

Until the next day. And more adventures.

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