I hadn’t intended to write about robots today but seeing both the North Coast Journal’s story about St. Joseph’s labor issues including the “doc-on-a-stick” AND The Economist’s survey of “robotic telepresence” in the workplace on the same day got my attention.
Briefly, St. Joe’s has apparently introduced the use of the “doc-on-a-stick” (described by the NCJ as a “video screen on a pole that a nurse wheels into the patient’s room, so a doctor from afar can videoconference in to consult with a patient with the nurse’s help.”) Normally, such a major change in procedures would call for “impact and implementation” bargaining between the employer and the union. The article, by the always excellent Heidi Walters, examines points of contention between labor and management at St. Joe’s and although this is the first time I’ve heard of robots being at issue in local labor relations, you may be assured it won’t be the last.
The survey published by the Economist in the March 9th issue was eye-opening, to me at least. I didn’t realize how inexpensive “robotic telepresence” is becoming. RoboDynamics of Santa Monica introduced its TILR model in 2008 at $10,000, followed it with a $3000 model in January and is working on a 2015 model that will cost less than $1000. Robots are being used to extend a manager’s sphere of influence by enabling monitoring and meetings that would not otherwise be practical. They can facilitate real estate deals by allowing inspections remotely. They can enhance security, and cheaply. Xaxxon Technologies in Vancouver is selling a patrol bot that is essentially a laptop on wheels which runs on Skype and is controlled by a smartphone. It costs $290. I want one.
Security , however, is a two-way street. A ‘bot on patrol may be transmitting images which call for a firewall or other controls. Another issue is the effect on humans in the workplace who feel (with good cause) that they are being spied on. Future developments will be driven to some extent by the need to humanize the ‘bots, perhaps by adding limbs. Several companies are now marketing small machines that can zip around a floor or tabletop, carrying your smartphone and avoiding collisions. It’s happening.
I strongly recommend you read the full article. I have no doubt that somewhere in Humboldt County an inventor is pursuing this technology and new uses for it. We do, indeed, live in interesting times. Are you considering the use of ‘bots for your business? Let us know.