How do you make your mom robot angry? Keep pushing her buttons.
March 15, 2014 6:52 AM   Subscribe

You thought Google buying robot technology was scary? We've discussed here the unease brought on by Google's purchase of Boston Dynamics, the maker of "terrifying robots", and recently the prediction of robots rising by Google's Director of Engineering, but it turns out that Google may not be the problem. Truly terrifying robots are already here and could show up in your home if you happen to have mounds of disposable cash and no sense of boundaries. No this isn't April 1, yes this is legit.
posted by jeremias (55 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
... Telecommuting is scary?
posted by kyrademon at 6:59 AM on March 15, 2014 [4 favorites]

Waiting for the tazer addon for the project to be complete.

As I make this joke, I realise similar things with less-lethal weapons will probably actually be sold to the prison/LE system.
posted by jaduncan at 7:01 AM on March 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

Scary, or Stupid?
posted by signal at 7:29 AM on March 15, 2014

For People Who Get Things Done.
posted by doublesix at 7:30 AM on March 15, 2014

In the remote offices, these will all get "Kick Me" signs taped to the back.
posted by bendybendy at 7:31 AM on March 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

Suitable Technologies absolutely sounds like something that robots would pick to name a company.
posted by charismatic megafauna at 7:34 AM on March 15, 2014 [23 favorites]

They've been trying to sell these exact same "telepresence" robots to the corporate market for quite a while now -- "Tour your offshore factory without the hassle of flying all the way to china!"

Not sure there's much of a consumer market but as long as they're manufacturing then anyway it's a pretty low risk experiment to set up a website and see if anyone buys...
posted by ook at 7:35 AM on March 15, 2014

Man half these robo 'telepresence' things make me think of the Segway, a solution looking for a problem that never existed.
posted by kurosawa's pal at 7:38 AM on March 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

The telepresence robot revolution will be thwarted by non-ADA compliant entrances to buildings.
posted by cellphone at 7:47 AM on March 15, 2014 [5 favorites]

Note the conspicuous lack of terrified housepets in the video.
posted by griphus at 7:51 AM on March 15, 2014 [9 favorites]

but it turns out that Google may not be the problem.

Turns out? Remember the android in the film Alien? It's corporate assignment was to spy on everyone and report back to headquarters too.
posted by three blind mice at 8:00 AM on March 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Calling someone to tell them to call an electrician is not a selling point. Watching one of these stupid walking camera television lamp bullshits fix your drier is a selling point.
posted by oceanjesse at 8:03 AM on March 15, 2014

No, but seriously, this isn't a terrible idea given the waning of landlines. This would make it easier to share a phone call on thanksgiving or whatever without having to huddle and crouch around a laptop. Is it worth the inevitable >$100[0]? I doubt it.
posted by oceanjesse at 8:05 AM on March 15, 2014

This was on The Good Wife! Rolling around in the background for some amusing physical comedy of a lawyer telecommuting. There's also been a couple of neat news stories about them being used by sick kids to participate in classroom activities (NYT article with pink tutu).
posted by viggorlijah at 8:15 AM on March 15, 2014

the last link kept asking me if I wanted to allow something access to something else in my computer and it scared me off. as perhaps something intended to
posted by angrycat at 8:18 AM on March 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

Interesting. When I was an undergrad, I took both Genocide and Artificial Intelligence as my electives. I always kidded around that if there were killer robots out to subjugate the world, I was ready to take them on...better dust off my notes, or maybe my old Blue Beetle comic books instead...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 8:36 AM on March 15, 2014

Didn't one of the South Park kids use something like this to go trick or treating in the Blockbuster episode?
posted by Dr Dracator at 8:48 AM on March 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Telecommuting is scary?

Well no, the business angle, i.e. "tour the factory from overseas with the moving video camera" makes some sort of sense, I guess (although still kind of creepy, imagine the fun Mr. Burns could have with that!).

However, this video advertises the Beam+ which is aimed at domestic households, let grandma join the grandkids, mom's on a business trip let's give her a place at the table!

I have no problem with video chats, etc, but something about adding movement into the mix pushes this into the uncanny valley for me, i.e. scary.
posted by jeremias at 9:12 AM on March 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

A kid could send three four or a dozen of those out for Halloween and scoop ALL the candy.

(Then sell it to the other kids later to pay for three four or a dozen Link 'bots.)


"Now, honey..."

"I said I don't want to talk about it anymore."

"You can't just walk away from this. Wait. What are you doing? Don't come any closer."

Poke. Teeter, teeter, wobble, crash.

"Honey? You there?"
posted by notyou at 9:14 AM on March 15, 2014

Telecommuting is not scary at all.
posted by flabdablet at 9:31 AM on March 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

This is really just the first step in telepresence - not the end game. These folks are working out problems that are going to need to be solved for all kinds of telepresence problems, not just talking to grandma. For example, things like queuing actions in fluid situations and local location services (gps for a small place, so we know exactly where our output machine is located). These aren't necessarily important for touring your overseas factory, but if you are running an undersea welding diver platform or a mining platform these things are very important. I think it is likely that running telepresence platforms is probably going to be a large portion of the middle-class jobs in our future - it reduces the cost of travel and keeps people out of dangerous situations. Desk jobs for everyone!
posted by Brent Parker at 9:58 AM on March 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

They had one of these on The Good Wife one episode early last season ( as an one-off comedy gimmick which was repeated way too many times, not as a plot element)
posted by Bwithh at 10:03 AM on March 15, 2014

About 12 years ago I was working on something similar to that telepresence robot, but much more primitive, as a fun hobby project and to hopefully use at the office so I could 'be' at the office when needed while I was doing IT work at other locations.

It was going to be silly looking thing made from mostly spare parts and junk- the main parts consisted of a dome-top trash can containing a PC running XP that ran CU-See Me (this was a little while before Skype) with a small monitor and camera attached and controlled the motor and steering of a salvaged Power Wheels toy (picked because it was designed to hold a kid, so I wouldn't have to think about weight too much, and I would only need to make a controller that would handle steering and throttle).

I scrapped the project before completing the prototype, partly due to not having a lot of time but mostly due to the trash can body looking too much like R2-D2 which bugged me as being way to cheesy looking even though it was a practical solution.

If I were going to make a spare parts/junk robot today, I'd probably just combine a Roomba as a base with some extra 'training wheels' for balance, a couple Raspberry Pi computers to control the Roomba and handle the remote management with a microphone stand with an iPad on top to handle the videocalls.
posted by chambers at 10:07 AM on March 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

This will be good for answering the door when I do not want to go downstairs.
posted by xammerboy at 10:19 AM on March 15, 2014

They also had this on ER I think... Was it the guy who also got his arm ripped off when a helicopter crashed onto the roof?
posted by colie at 10:26 AM on March 15, 2014

A kid could send three four or a dozen of those out for Halloween and scoop ALL the candy.

Not from me. I would give it virtual candy.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 10:32 AM on March 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

The best story I've heard about these sort of robots is the social strife caused by people laying 2x4s on the threshold of their office doors to keep telepresent people out. This lays bare ineffable feelings that the robot presence is invasive, and traumatic feelings of powerlessness that come from helplessly bumping your robot body's wheels against an unyielding barrier.
posted by ethansr at 10:37 AM on March 15, 2014 [9 favorites]

Noted is that the Executive... er Pro model is functionally identical to the demure domestic model except for being taller, more professionally colored, and louder. They certainly seem to understand their market. I predict big things for this company. Straight shooters with upper management written all over them!
posted by stet at 10:40 AM on March 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

There is something very sinister in the way the robot comes up behind the woman putting the clothing into the machine.

Actually, there's something very sinister about this whole concept.
posted by Solomon at 11:36 AM on March 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

That'd be awesome to just creep around the office, smiling and nodding at people when they noticed you, oh man, I'm just giggling my pants off thinking about all the sinister fun you could have with that...
posted by Windopaene at 11:40 AM on March 15, 2014

Too much stress. You should all just relax!
posted by blue_beetle at 11:41 AM on March 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

the first thing i would do is go to the mens room and pull up to a urinal, hum to myself, make small talk to the guy in the next one over. "would you mind getting the door for me, buddy?"

Lurk in the broom closet, act embarrassed and surprised when someone opens the door.

Wheel into a corner, just keep bumping into the corner, scream.

On the other hand, if I had a terrible boss that used one of these, i would say "holy shit, you gotta come check this out!" and then have him follow you down a flight of stairs.
posted by Stonestock Relentless at 12:09 PM on March 15, 2014 [9 favorites]

I like how you could even tell from the commercial that there's an irritating 2-3 seconds of lag.
posted by aubilenon at 12:15 PM on March 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

In the remote offices, these will all get "Kick Me" signs taped to the back.

Of course, that's why the savvy CxO will buy a second one for their office. Additionally, when your employees talk trash about your dumbass robot avatar after you've rolled out of earshot, zooooom! Busted by #2!
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 12:54 PM on March 15, 2014

If there were one of these robots in my office, the person running it would be talking to us, not realizing that the machine had been hacked so that the video of his face was replaced with that Mitch McConnell ad.
posted by straight at 3:06 PM on March 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Twitter office has had a Double Robotics telepresence bot knocking around from time to time. Not that different from this Suitable Technologies bot, it's basically an iPad attached to a mini-Segway, remote controlled. It's sort of ridiculous but also kind of works. It's been the avatar for a friend of mine and he liked it, although I'm not sure he still uses it now that the novelty has worn off. It seems only marginally better than just running Facetime and having a human carry the iPad around.

The two minute marketing video linked here is full of sad stories of families split apart. I'm surprised they're not emphasizing more cases where it's not a poor substitute for daddy actually being at home to play hide-n-seek.
She said the hardest thing to teach her three-year-old kid was what was alive and what wasn't.
The phone rings and she holds it out to her kid and says, "It's Grandma. Talk to Grandma." But she's holding a piece of plastic.
And the kid says to herself: "Wait a minute. Is the phone alive? Is the TV alive? What about that radio? What is alive in this room and what doesn't have life?"
Unfortunately, she doesn't know how to ask these questions.
So Happy Birthday, Laurie Anderson
posted by Nelson at 3:09 PM on March 15, 2014 [4 favorites]

I would totally be putting a 2x4 in my doorway to keep these telepresence robots out.

I'd do it for my present-present coworkers, too, except I think they would work out how to step over it.
posted by winna at 3:13 PM on March 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

Multi-presence is going to be the app that breaks through. The ability to be present in a mutltitude of places that only really require your partial attention. What those places and events are will be up for debate.

In terms of where it will get rolled out. Most people here have the wrong idea. It won't be used by boss type wandering around checking up on workers. It will be used to make the attention of workers available at all times. Why go around checking on people when you can get people to report in and be present at every little meeting that only requires their partial attention.

The main thing hindering these type of applications is a lack reliable AND cheap; high bandwidth, low latency connections. Maybe we should appreciate the status of the quo while it lasts.
posted by vicx at 4:15 PM on March 15, 2014

Part of me is looking froward to watching two people have an argument via telepresence robots.

Eventually, people will make them emote somehow, sort of in the way the Pixar desk lamp does, based on what the camera sees from your posture and facial expressions. Then people will mod them to make the robots seem more confident than the people speaking with them, and at that point we have a bunch of strutting robots walking the halls confidently alongside slouching, depressed robots, and then, well, it just gets sad.

It's kind of depressing that the singularity will probably be that from a certain perspective, everyone ends up being essentially puppeteers.
posted by chambers at 4:27 PM on March 15, 2014

Part of me is looking froward to watching two people have an argument via telepresence robots.

Mostly I look forward to that argument degrading into fisticuffs.
posted by aubilenon at 6:02 PM on March 15, 2014

Eventually, people will make them emote somehow

Part of me is looking forward to a telepresent boss being oblivious to the workers' augmentation of their avatar with Shiri.
posted by flabdablet at 3:15 AM on March 16, 2014

This will never take off because an intern carrying an iPad could do it much better, and interns are free.
posted by colie at 6:01 AM on March 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh, dear.

An eponysterical jeremiad.
posted by Herodios at 7:10 AM on March 16, 2014

If anything like this happens, it isn't going to be with talking carpet cleaners. Too unimposing and undignified.

If there are going to be robots at all, my bet is we'll get glowing robot octocopter heads with dangling claws and barbed tails. They'll follow you about the office and perch like demon vultures on your cubicle wall or hide in the rafters and slowly, scratchingly walk back and forth up in the ceiling tiles until it's time to swoop down and make you close Tetris. And when you try to negotiate a raise? Quoth the robot...
posted by pracowity at 9:12 AM on March 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

I vote we lock them all up in a fucking great cave, give them a blue pill, and use their batteries to power our civilization.
posted by flabdablet at 9:56 AM on March 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

These telepresence robots seem like a joke straight out of Futurama or something.
posted by Soupisgoodfood at 1:59 AM on March 17, 2014

This will never take off because an intern carrying an iPad could do it much better, and interns are free.

The fact that this is actually true is quite depressing.
posted by jaduncan at 5:23 AM on March 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

Edward Snowden is taking part in the TED conference via one of these robots.
posted by missmerrymack at 3:15 PM on March 18, 2014

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