Meet the Double: Part robot, part iPad

352 CEO Geoff Wilson, shown sitting at a desk, demonstrates how he uses the robot dubbed the Double, at right.

The Gainesville Sun/Matt Stamey
Published: Monday, September 1, 2014 at 5:27 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, September 1, 2014 at 5:27 p.m.

It can talk. It can move. It can see.

But it's not a person.

Resembling an iPad on a segway, a telepresence robot dubbed the Double moves freely about website builder 352 Inc.'s office. The robot is controlled by someone at a remote location who can see through the iPad's front camera.

Occasionally, it's 352 CEO Geoff Wilson on the other end, virtually visiting local employees while he's out of town. Given the robot's mobility, it's more personal than a Skype call and creates a more three-dimensional interaction for the user, said 352 founding partner Peter VanRysdam.

Wilson said he views the technology as a way to humanize the interaction between key members working remotely with those at the local office in the Tioga Town Center.

“We really encourage our employees to collaborate and build relationships with each other. That is best done through face-to-face communication,” Wilson said. “If employees cannot be in the same office, this is the next best thing.”

The person controlling the device's movements can do so via iPad, iPhone, iPod touch or a desktop Chrome browser. An additional camera points downward to make navigation easy.

Wilson said he admires the device's sleek design and describes it as “quite intuitive, and surprisingly easy to use.”

352 purchased the Double about four months ago from California-based Double Robotics, which started selling the bots for $2,499 in 2012. The iPad, however, must be bought separately.

The robot can stand up to 5 feet tall and weighs about 15 pounds, with a battery life of up to eight hours.

David Cann, CEO and co-founder of Double Robotics, said they're in use all over the world. The Double Robotics blog features an animation company in China that hired a Los Angeles-based animation director, who uses the robot to be present in the Beijing office. In Kansas, a homebound kindergarten student was able to attend class virtually.

Wilson said he isn't aware of any other local companies using the Double, but he recommends it for those that employ remote workers.

“It's definitely a cool conversation starter,” VanRysdam said. When the robot first arrived, he said people followed it around snapping photos with their phones, while others were shocked when it rolled into their offices.

“It's really quiet and can really sneak up on you,” he said.

Although still somewhat of a novelty, the Double is now an integral part of the office. It sits in the middle of the office so workers can see when it's in use.

“We're thinking about putting a bell on it,” VanRysdam said.

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