We developed KUBI with a clear solution in mind: delivering a positive mobile telepresence experience on a practical budget. The goal was to maximize compatibility with mobile devices like tablets and leverage technology and resources that already exist. After looking at roaming as an option, we decided in the end that it was not a practical way to solve the problem we were addressing.
A big selling point for roaming telepresence is the ability to have a physical presence in the office and collaborate with your co-workers when you can’t be there in person. Your robot avatar can move about the office at your command, allowing impromptu conversations with co-workers and effectively solving “the water cooler problem”. Casual conversation doesn’t come cheap though, at $2,500 to over $30,000 a unit! Piloting a remote version of yourself is undeniably fun, but it is a very expensive solution to a very simple problem.
For those remote workers missing out on casual interaction, we would propose placing a KUBI in a central meeting space such as a break room, ad-hoc meeting area or even at the water cooler. Plenty of video clients come with the ability to keep a meeting constantly up and running for this specific purpose.
To be fair, there are certain instances when roaming telepresence is applicable. Under very specific circumstances, the advantage of being able to connect remotely and move freely around an office or other location would be worth the cost. As a general collaboration tool, however, roaming just isn’t an economical solution.
Imagine driving your new telepresence robot down the hall to a work meeting. Assuming you make it all the way to the conference room (more on this later), what happens then? You position yourself at one end of the table, and sit there stationary for the entire meeting. Your fancy robot becomes a very expensive (and very small) screen on wheels, and you are no longer using the wheels, which are the most expensive part!
From a perspective of efficiency, it doesn’t make much sense to be spending valuable work time driving a robot around, especially when most mobile video conference solutions allow you to instantly connect provided a good wireless signal. The real benefit is being able to communicate with your co-workers throughout the day in a casual, ad-hoc manner.
Problem is, roaming robots can’t (yet) open doors, go up stairs or access elevators. They are also subject to wireless dead spots. Think bad cell phone reception is frustrating? You won’t be happy when you are trying to get to an important meeting or you are in the middle of a conversation and your wireless feed cuts out. What do you do? Call someone at the office so they can move you to get a better signal? Kind of defeats the purpose. Setting up a more robust wireless connection just complicates things with IT support and even more spending.
Our solution takes a practical approach. There is a benefit to being able to explore a remote environment in depth without burdening your conferencing partner to hold up a camera or aim a tablet screen at different objects, but you don’t need roaming ability to accomplish this. We designed KUBI to be lightweight, portable and run off-charge so it can be placed anywhere it is needed. From a stationary position, the remote user can control 300 degrees of pan and 90 degrees of tilt to direct the camera around the room.
Rather than a fully remote “you”, KUBI is like your remote head and neck (the word “kubi” is Japanese for “neck”), allowing you to look around and direct your attention wherever you wish. This is especially helpful for meetings with multiple people around a conference table, an always open ad-hoc connection in a central workspace, professional presentations, teaching scenarios and even healthcare uses.
For the same price as one roaming bot (or thousands less) a business could install a KUBI in every office. Multiple rooms? No problem! Jump from KUBI to KUBI instantly without worrying about navigating a robot there or getting stuck along the way. With a little forethought given to strategic placement, KUBI has the power to give you a full view of any space and stay connected with what (and who) is important.