Bots are there when you can't be (video)

Need to be in two places at once? Perhaps a robot can come to the rescue. Companies in Silicon Valley are developing mobile bots to connect people for teleconferencing or just keeping in touch. CNET's Kara Tsuboi reports.

Claire Deliunay looks on from one of her smartphone-friendly Botiful bots as a cheery office worker gets bookish with an Anybot.
Left: Claire Deliunay; Right: Anybots

The idea of teleconferencing has been around for a long time, especially in the corporate world. First there was the joining of phone lines. Next came the introduction of video, maybe even multiple screens from users in different locations. But that technology can be limiting and inflexible. As the remote user, you don't get a great view of the room and can't explore anything beyond its confines. Now companies like Anybots in Silicon Valley are hoping to make the experience more mobile and flexible with robots like the QB.

At Anybots' corporate headquarters in Santa Clara, Calif., the team designs, manufactures, and tests its mobile bots. At any given time, a handful of the lightweight guys are rolling around the cubicle maze, controlled by a user a few desks or miles away. Picture a fancy, wireless two-way Web cam on wheels. With a base price of $9,700, the bots are designed with the corporate user in mind. For example, if a manager can't physically be at a meeting at her San Francisco office, she can hop online from her home in Kansas City and log in to control her QB robot that's at the meeting. She can see and hear what's going on through the QB's video camera, and her co-workers can see and hear her through the bot's screen. When she's finished with that meeting, she can use the simple keyboard controls to drive the bot down the hall to check in on another project.

For those of us with smaller budgets but similar connectivity issues, other entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley are dreaming up unique robotic solutions. For example, there's Claire Deliunay's Botiful, which she's building out of her Palo Alto, Calif., garage. She's created a small, mobile robotic base that can drive a smartphone on a Skype call. Deliunay says the Botiful is perfect for people with kids who want to connect with other family members miles away. She's funded her entire project through Kickstarter money and plans on delivering the first $300 model this fall.

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