My Life as a Robot in an Hybrid workshop

I was a robot during 3 hours. No legs, just wheels. No face, just a screen. No eyes, just a camera. No arms, unfortunately.

I was participating in a workshop with colleagues from Schneider Electric at an innovation lab at the Grenoble University, France. I had to leave back to Paris after the second day and was very sad not be able to participate the last day.

I found the solution in a corner of the room: a telepresence robot from Suitable Technologies, which would replace me.

The morning of the last day, from home, I logged into the web site of the vendor, installed the controlling software on my PC, viewed the instructions on a video, selected the Beam+ robot located in the room and voilà, I was among my colleagues. I pressed the arrow keys and began to walk, so to say. I was thrilled. I was able to wander around the room, joke with them, as if I were physically there.

I always wanted to incarnate such a robot. I had seen some in trade shows, in Dilbert comics, or on the web. I had assumed that the typical robot user was a teleworker wandering in the empty corridors of his/her office, looking for someone to talk to. I am teleworking one day per week, and the mix of WebEx, webcam and teleconference is good enough for me. Though, attending a workshop where the people separate in sub-groups, brainstorm, and then gather, just from a PC, looked impossible!

Participating to the workshop was easy when I was among a sub-group of three people. Brainstorming was easy, reading paperboard was fine, providing the text was not too high (I shrunk from 1.88m to 1.35m!). Writing was frustratingly impossible, so was reading post-its on a table. Attending the plenary and speaking in front of the assembly were easy. However, understanding someone when there was a lot of background noises was very difficult.

My colleagues accepted me very easily. They discussed with me, face to face, or in groups, and pushed chairs to facilitate my moves. They even took selfies.

At the end of the morning, I began to panic. The battery indicator was getting red and I did not want to leave the group to recharge. I wanted to stay until the end of the presentations. I felt the same way as someone seeing the gauge of his car getting to zero, knowing that he is not sure to reach his destination. I was telling the team that I (the robot) was getting flat, without great success.

Hopefully, I managed to stay alive until the end. The last drop of energy allowed me to survive until three quarters of the wrap-up. Finally, black screen. What an adventure!

Louis-Pierre Guillaume

ote: Republished from my LinkedIn Article, Dec 16, 2016.

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