Last week we looked at two new robots for the home: iRobot's ConnectR and Erector's Skypee. Both do pretty much the same thing, though their stated purposes are a little different. They're both knee-high moving Webcams with VoIP speakerphone capabilities that can be controlled remotely from a computer over Wi-Fi. And as one reader so kindly pointed out, they're not the only ones: WowWee's Roboquad can be tweaked to work the same way.
Spykee and ConnectR can return to their docking chargers on their own, but they hardly represent technological robot-in-the-home breakthroughs: A less-expensive Roomba is full of navigating programs that are more complicated. What the 'bots do represent, however, are two very different companies' convictions that in the future we will always need to be, and want to be, in two places at once — and that one of those places will be the home. I'm not sure that iRobot and Erector are right in their assumptions, and if they are, I don't think that they've found the next logical technological breakthrough. More of my anti-robot screed after the jump.
Certainly, some employees are reluctant to travel a lot for work, but if we really put them to the test, how much of their work time would they want to (or be able to) spend babysitting? My guess is not much. If you're not the type of parent who takes the time to go home and read a bedtime story to your kid, who's to say that you'll want to spend time doing just that remotely?
And why do we assume that in the future we're going to have to be away from our homes as much as or more than we are today? I believe that in the future more telecommuting will be in the opposite direction, using existing conferencing and communication technology.
Colin Angle, the CEO and co-founder of iRobot, claims that his daughter calls the ConnectR "daddy" when he talks through it. First off, why is this surprising? She's addressing her father through a glorified speakerphone. But let's say little Miss Angle really does think of the robot as a physical representation of her father. Is this a good thing? On the contrary — it's completely ridiculous. These machines would be much more useful to kids if the kids could see you, which I needn't point out is already possible with videoconferencing. Isn't a plastic object on wheels a regression from the two-directional web cam? At the very least the 'bots should be able show or project an image of the person at the other end of the wire.
S.E. Kramer is a freelance writer in Manhattan. She's traveled the world as a writer for the Rough Guides, and contributed to Wired, AOL's Switched, Condé Nast Traveler, and Portfolio.com.