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August 14, 2012

WSJ's QB-82 Telerobotic Experiment Illustrates the Future World of Telecommuting Work

By Daniel Brecht, Contributing Writer

Working remotely (with either the setup up of videoconferencing or videotelephony) has become popular as it offers advantages and potentially saves companies time and money. Remote working practices also save employees travel time. As for the company, it saves them time in making arrangements for an office space and costs needed to support employees at the office –setting up and supplying a workstation (desk, chair, PC, monitor, printer, and so on).

For the employee and company, remote working is a win-win strategy as it offers employee job satisfaction and boosts their morale and fulfils work-life balance. As for the company, it presents a calmer work environment with fewer workers present at the office to enable them to be more focused and productive.

With the right secure technology, broadband connection, phone lines, PC equipment and software in place to implement telecommuting practices; the telepresence concept could work for many companies. 

One such organization that has used telecommuting recently in its workplace is the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), the firm that provides coverage of today's breaking news and headlines. The news presented by WSJ's Rachel Emma Silverman on August 7th, was about her own experience with working remotely; however, she used a telecommuting robot, the so-called QB-82, to be at two places at once.

QB-82, which was manufactured by Anybots (News - Alert) Inc., is a wheeled, skinny robot that allowed Ms. Silverman “to zoom around [the] WSJ newsroom [on a Segway-like wheeled base] and chat with colleagues from her home office.” By using a telepresence robot, she was able to perform teleoperation and have the robot go places within the WSJ office building.

Through Ms. Silverman’s webcam and Wi-Fi connection, the robot was able to be controlled. She was able to maneuver QB-82 from her home by using her laptop's arrow keys and see where the robot was going with the help of a telerobotic interface – a 3.5-inch video screen that rests on the head of the robot. The screen displayed her face and permitted her to see before speaking to colleagues, and vice versa. The ability of having the robot make it to the newsroom to allow her to be present for a staff meeting shows how such a high-end system like a robot with videoconferencing functions could be used to make company employees be present at a moment notice.

Ms. Silverman’s experiments in using a telecommuting robot are not only unique but demonstrate another high-tech way a company employee could work remotely. It may be too advance and too costly to deploy, but it does illustrate how telerobotics can be used today, and definitely in the future.

Indeed, it's not too far-fetched to imagine a telecommuting robot to be put in place or substitute an employee at a workplace and allow it to do the same type of tasks as a human being would on an ordinary day.

However, such technology (using robotics) does have its drawbacks, as Anybots points out. Due to Wi-Fi coverage, the QB-82 is not able to function in all work spaces and go into elevators; thus, providing evidence that there are a few technical problems that must be fixed before a telecommuting robot becomes a company choice.

Want to learn more about the latest in communications and technology? Then be sure to attend ITEXPO West 2012, taking place Oct. 2-5, in Austin, TX.  Stay in touch with everything happening at ITEXPO (News - Alert). Follow us on Twitter.

Edited by Brooke Neuman
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