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09.18.07 / inko9nito

IvanAnywhere the Telecommuter Robot

UPDATE: If you want to know more about the robot you can view my Wikipedia article about it. If you have more info – please update the article. Thanks ๐Ÿ™‚

There is something eerie about a coat rack on wheels with a webcam and a touch screen strolling through the halls of your work place. Is it spying on you? Is it recording everything you say and do? No. Not yet, at lest. Luckily, (for now) it’s just a way for an iAnywhere employee Ivan Bowman to telecommute to his work 1,350 km away.

Ivan was allowed to telecommute when his wife received a job in Halifax. Sure, it didn’t matter whether he wrote code “safely pantless” form his couch (thanks, Engadget) or sitting in a stuffy cubicle at work, but as it turns out communication with his peers plays a major role in his job.

One of the solutions was a stationary webcam and a speaker so he could view the presentations and respond, which apparently made him feel like an outcast because he couldn’t communicate in a timely manner if people were away from his contraption.

“I could hear people in the kitchen talking about something, and occasionally I would have something I wanted to add to that, and not being there in person, I couldn’t do anything. I had to wait for them to come over to the desk.”

What started out as a simple one-way communication between him and his coworkers via something as simple as a speakerphone (first failed attempt) during presentations so he could virtually “attend” the meetings, evolved into a rather disturbing but useful two-way communication vessel – the IvanAnywhere robot.

As mentioned above, the “robot” consists of a box (filled with batteries) with wheels, a coat rack with a foam ball on top to make it look remotely like Ivan (I think I’d draw a smiley face or staple his picture to it, but that’s just me). Ivan controls his metal self via a controller at home and can communicate with people via the touch screen, speakers and a microphone. The robot even has an ability to evade obstacles (sometimes unsuccessfully).

Although some were still uneasy about talking to a machine that had no resemblance to a human being other than the spherical foam shape at the top (if that at all counts), most coworkers accepted the robo-Ivan as one of their own .

Is it because we are so used to virtual communication that the robot being there in front of you just enhances the semi-virtual experience by making it more real? He is sort of there, he is kind of tangible, right? Is it any different than a student recording a lecture while he himself is absent? Or a girl in Tokyo attending a group gathering solely via her cellphone?

As Rheingold points out in “Smart Mobs,” “athough people claim that they know the difference between humans and machines, their cognitive, emotional, and behavioral responses to artificial representations of humans are identical to the reactions they have to real people.”

Virtual communication has become just as widespread as face-to-face interaction. We are getting used to this phenomenon, some faster and more painlessly than others. Are robot “substitutes” the way of the future1? It wouldn’t surprise me if more people started telecommuting in the same or a similar way as Ivan. Robots, and technology in general, will become more advanced in the way that they mirror humans and human interaction. Whether it is ethical is another argument.

1Sound helps

Woo hoo! This blog is not about Apple but still long as hell…At least that’s how you know I wrote it, huh? ๐Ÿ™‚

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