In a typical workplace, people don't sit chained to their desks all day. They like to wander the hall and engage in conversation with other employees, except if they telecommute. Well, now, that's changing.
Dallas Goercker lives in Indiana while he works in Mountain View. This isn't telecommuting. It's telepresence.
"Most people in the building didn't know who he was," according to Dallas' boss. "Now, most people in the building think he's a robot."
"That's what they know me as," Dallas acknowledges. "I just drive around with a big smile on my face."
On one of those drives a fellow employee stops him to say, "They're waiting for you in the conference room."
"I can go to meetings," says Goercker. "I can be there physically, see them, they can see me. I can move up to them, versus their always having to come up to me."
During one of those meetings, Willow Garage CEO Steve Cousins gave ABC7 the perspective of the humans present.
"If you had asked me before this project started, 'Should we build a telepresence robot?' I would have said, 'We don't really need that.' But, it turns out it makes a huge difference in how we know Dallas," he said.
"It definitely makes a difference as far as my interactions with people and getting to know people, and people knowing me. They like to dress me up, they like to put stickers on me, all around," he said.
Telepresence robots are being used elsewhere. So far, they are used almost entirely in applications that require making rounds, such as medical care. Telecommuting is something different. Dallas' robot is called Texas, developed by him and colleague Curt Meyers at Willow Garage, a robot developer and incubator where they work.
On top is a webcam with pan, tilt and zoom. The monitor pivots to change the view. A laser scanner helps with navigation and investigation. A third camera below keeps an eye on the road.
What happens when more than one person is telepresent? They bump into each other, like Curt's robot and Dallas' robot.