How and why robots are placeshifting remote workers

Anybots' Trevor Blackwell and Elance's Fabio Rosati at GigaOM Net:Work 2011Imagine a future where you could take over the body of a robot from home and use it to do work at your office. Even better, when you finished your tasks, what if another remote employee could “beam in” to the same robot to get their tasks done? That’s not science fiction: It’s reality thanks to web-connected robots.

At the GigaOm Net:Work conference on Thursday, Fabio Rosati, President and CEO, of Elance and Trevor Blackwell, the Founder and CEO of Anybots discussed how this future is now. Elance is a consultant-based freelance organization and its resources use Anybots to virtually be on-site for customers. “Our workers commute two to three thousand miles to work in seconds,” Rosati said.

These “white collar” robots, controlled by a freelancer, can handle front lobby greetings, business deliveries and more. Because the human workforce doesn’t work 24 hours a day — and robots generally can — Anybots can be used by multiple people at different times, allowing for economies of scale. Blackwell mentioned this as the “Zipcar approach” as idle robots could be tapped into as needed.

But using robots to crowdsource work isn’t just about saving money or spreading out the workload: Even a virtual presence may be more important than a caller in a conference.

Panel moderator, Thomas Vander Wal, Principal and Sr. Consultant, InfoCloud Solutions and, Analyst, GigaOM Pro, recalled a recent encounter with an Anybot in the office. “I was on the phone,” he said, “and an Anybot was in the room, as were other people. I was so focused on the robot and people that I forgot we had someone on the phone.”

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Photo by Pinar Ozger.