Robots are Headed to an Office Near You: Are You Ready?


ITEXPO attendees got a real treat this week in sunny Las Vegas when a fully autonomous robot started making his way down the hallways and exhibit floor space, mingling effortlessly with show goers. Startling some—but intriguing most—this robot, created by iRobot, was certainly worthy of buzz during this week’s show.

In fact, attendees got to learn a whole lot more about this smart device this morning when iRobot’s Director of Business Development Karl Dahlin took the keynote stage.

“There are hundreds of robots out there,” Dahlin began, “and they do everything from put a bolt on an assembly in a factory to help navigate ships at sea.”

“Robots are about empowering you to do more,” he added. “You have a lot of things you want to do and a lot of things that compete with your time. For instance, you’d rather play with the kids in the yard then vacuum, and if you had a choice between watching a football game or going to a movie or cleaning the gutters, what would you choose?”

But when we talk about the business benefits of robots, they change slightly. That’s because today’s devices are all about empowering businesses to collaborate more seamlessly and expediently, especially in an age of a remote workforce and increased pressures. By marrying robot technology with video collaboration software, companies are able to compress time and space and collaborate efficiently. 

Yet our interest in speeding up things in the business world is nothing new, argued Dahlin. Conversely, the human population has always been centered on using technology to accelerate standard processes. Just think of our logical transgression from the postal service to the telegraph to the landline phone to email to consumer video over IP to video conferencing. But despite all our advances, these communications portals are still riddled with limitations. Take video conferencing, for example. Such technology enables businesses to connect visually but it is still not the same as being there.

That’s where iRobot comes in.

“That’s what video collaboration robots do; they bring us all together,” Dahlin said. “They allow us to talk to people via video and move around that space as if you were actually there. They can turn and interact. That means that I can be in San Francisco and move through a factory space in Mexico or Brazil.”

ITEXPO attendees got to see firsthand the capabilities of iRobot’s robot—a device that is completely autonomous, can move by itself, and is intelligent enough to sense its environment. Participants watched it “walk” across the stage, move from a “sitting” to a “standing” position by adjusting its height and use its radar and three types of sensing and imaging equipment to sense its environment.

But this no bulky, device-laden robot. Rather it has a sizeable screen that displays the face of its user. 

“What do these video collaboration robots look like?,” Dahlin asked. “What should they look like? Well, they should look like you. When they move through a space it’s not some blinking red light or an ominous figure coming out of the future that freaks everyone out. Individuals should look at the screen and see Steve, Sharon or Suzy.”

And just like that, Steve, Sharon or Suzy can move around the space as if they were actually on-site. You will hear their voice; you will see their face; and you can interact with Steve, Sharon or Suzy as if they weren’t several time zones away.

iRobot’s Ava 500 device boasts several capabilities including executive presence, which allows leading personnel to interact with their teams no matter where they are located; remote workforce functionality, by allowing remote workers to walk through offices and sit in on meetings as if they were there; ad open collaboration environments, to foster the idea of workplace 2020 in which employees do not have to be locked into fixed, physical spaces.

The robot is integrated with a Cisco video conferencing system and boasts an internal Cisco wireless router that allows it to connect to the network. Robot users can connect to it with any standard video conferencing solution.

“They are changing the way a lot of businesses will look to communicate in the future,” Dahlin concluded. “It’s about changing their processes.”

Edited by Adam Brandt
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