Put A New Face On Telecommuting: Your Own

Telecommuting is on the rise, and
its potential benefits have been well
documented. But although you can
call, email, and IM to your heart’s
content, there are few substitutes
for person-to-person face time. Video
conferencing goes part of the way, but it’s
still difficult to have someone on the other
end setting up everything for you and even
more difficult to get everyone to come to you
on your schedule. Double Robotics thinks it
has a solution—the Double Telepresence
Robot: your very own remote-controlled
robot (part iPad, part Segway) that lets you
be in the office without ever having to step
foot in the office. Its blend of futuristic
thinking and delightful simplicity makes it a
joy to use. More importantly, it promises to
combine the flexibility of telecommuting
with the benefits of personal face time. This
charmingly quirky robotic solution is not
without limitations, but it earns our Editors’
Choice endorsement.

There are two wheels at either end of the
Double’s cylindrical base, with a single metal
tube extending upward and terminating in a
plastic iPad cradle. When off, the Double
uses retractable stands at the front and back
to keep upright, but once turned on, the robot is selfbalancing, much like a Segway. A single LED on the
front indicates charging or pairing status. Around back
are a power port for use with the included AC adapter
and one button for powering the device on or off or
triggering pairing.
The Double doesn’t come with an iPad, but it works
with everything from the iPad 2 through the iPad Air.
There’s an included wide-angle conversion lens to help
widen your field of view using the iPad’s built-in frontfacing camera. A clever mirror around back lets you use
the rear-facing camera to look down at the Double’s
base, which proved really useful for avoiding obstacles.
Setup will be dead simple for anyone who’s used a
Bluetooth accessory with their iPad. The Double comes
in pairing mode out of the box, but you can press the
button around back three times to get it back into
pairing mode. Then go into the iPad’s Bluetooth
settings page and select the Double. Make sure your iPad is connected to the Internet, and then go ahead
and download the free Double iOS app. From there
you’ll have to make a free account and sign in.
To use the Double, you’ll actually need one iPad and
either another iOS device (iPod touches, iPhones, and
iPads are all supported) or a computer with the
Chrome browser and special Double extension
installed. This second device serves as the “driver” for
the Double, controlling movement and transmitting
audio and video from remote locations.

Put A New Face On Telecommuting: Your Own

I paired our Double with a fourth-generation iPad,
letting both charge fully overnight, and tested them
the next day while working remotely from my
apartment. The Double won’t let you move around
when either it or the paired iPad is plugged in, which
is a thoughtful measure. But that also means you’ll
need someone on-site to unplug both and fire up the
app. You also can’t wake the connected iPad remotely
from sleep—placing a call from the driver iPad will
display an on-screen notification on the connected
iPad, but someone will have to be there to answer the
incoming call. The Double app keeps the iPad awake
when open, so you’ll only have to do this once. To
minimize battery drain, the app dims the iPad’s
display when idle.
From there, you can use virtual on-screen buttons
to direct your Double forward and back, or swivel it
clockwise and counterclockwise. You can also adjust
the height of your Double to either “standing” or
“sitting” positions; the former maxes out at 60 inches,
and the latter bottoms out at 47 inches.
There’s a bit of a learning curve for navigation, and
it’s complicated by some connection latency and
occasional inconsistencies with button response. For
example, sometimes tapping the forward or back
button would inch the Double along, and other times
it would zoom the view one or two feet in either direction. Some complexity in
the controls is understandable considering the robot’s self-balancing act, but it
can take some getting used to.
Put A New Face On Telecommuting: Your Own
On the driver iPad or PC, you’ll see what the Double sees and asmall box in
the corner shows what’s displayed on the Double. Most times that’ll just be your
face, but you can change it to show the rear-facing camera’s view.
The Double itself doesn’t have any built-in speakers, so you’re limited by the
iPad’s anemic mono speaker. Video quality is also dependent on your iPad
model, as well as the strength of your Internet connection. I found both audio
and video quality to be sufficient for quick one-on-one chats, but you should be
ready to deal with some heavy compression artifacts and audio dropouts. I also
tested the iPad in a larger meeting setting, and found it pretty difficult to hear
people farther than about 10 feet away. When multiple people spoke at once, it
was even more difficult.
Double relies on the iPad’s wireless Internet connection, which can be either
Wi-Fi or cellular. I used a Wi-Fi–only iPad on our corporate network that spans
our entire office, but saw a few signal dropouts, each of which caused my
Double to become stranded. In each case, it was easy enough to ask for some
in-office assistance, but if your office is pretty expansive or your network
coverage is spotty, it could get a bit annoying.
Put A New Face On Telecommuting: Your Own
In most cases, you won’t need to be connected on a video call all day, and in
my tests, which involved five separate video calls ranging from 10 to 30 minutes, the Double and iPad both lasted a full 8 hours. If you expect to use the
Double for extensive periods of time, your mileage may vary. Thankfully, you
can monitor the battery life of both the robot and iPad using the driver device.
Put A New Face On Telecommuting: Your Own
I work remotely on occasion, and I have to admit that I thoroughly enjoyed my
time as a robot. I’m not entirely sure if having an in-office Double really
improved my workflow. But my own work commitments and intra-team
communication aren’t necessarily indicative of the norm. The biggest issues lie
with Double’s dependence on the iPad, rather than anything inherently wrong
with the robot or concept itself. Even as such, it’s pretty easy to work around the
limitations. The Double can be an invaluable resource for the right company
and the right workers—especially those who put a premium on flexible work
arrangements and in-person face time.

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