It may look like a floor lamp mounted on a vacuum cleaner, but Anybots, Inc.’s new “QB” is actually the latest in surrogate robotics. It is designed to serve as your eyes, ears and voice when you can’t be there in person. Even better, it rolls around on two wheels like The Jetsons’ Rosie and can be navigated remotely via the Web and a Wi-Fi connection.
Anybots formally unveiled the robot on May 18 and plans to start selling QBs this fall, at a hefty $15,000. A five-megapixel video camera serves as one eye, while a laser pointer fills the other spot. A speaker on the crown of a QB’s head gives it a mouthpiece, a touch-screen monitor on its forehead enables software maintenance and other input, and a ring of protective rubber around its head makes it look a bit like Olivia Newton-John circa 1981.
Anybots believes its technology will appeal to a new generation of workers who expect to be in contact at all times and in all places. To see how this might work in practice, Scientific American test-drove (from our editorial offices in New York City) a QB located at Anybots’s facility (in Mountain View, Calif.).
Once our robot “woke up” and connected to Anybots’s local Wi-Fi network, we used the arrow keys on our keyboard to navigate the QB across the lobby. The QB features a built-in LIDAR (light detection and ranging) system for collision avoidance and has a camera located on the bottom of its “chin” that points down at its wheels so you can see whether you are about to drive over a lower obstacle (such as someon's foot).
We drove the QB around, asked another model for directions and performed a laser-tag handshake with Anybots CEO Trevor Blackwell. By the time we were ready to leave, we felt confident enough to drive our QB back to the Anybots lobby and out the front door. Just past the building's threshold, we learned a valuable lesson in surrogate navigation: never drive outside the range of your Wi-Fi network. A dropped connection means no cameras and no control over the robot, which was especially unfortunate in our case because we were approaching a ramp heading down to the parking lot. Thankfully, Anybots's human workers were around to avert disaster.