These bots are pricey, though. A VGo costs $6000, and Anybots start at $9700. That may be why a company called Double Robotics in Miami, Florida, is tipped to make waves this year. Next month, it is due to launch a roving telepresence robot - with an iPad for a head - for the same price as a high-end laptop. Double's first production run sold out, and the company is reported to have secured almost $2 million of pre-orders for its 2013 run (see video below). Its customers reportedly include numerous US universities and Fortune 500 companies.
Of course, past failures of "telecommuting" to catch on widely suggest that these devices won't completely replace face-to-face meetings or communal working spaces. Still, they do provide us with a way of communicating that wasn't possible before. And the broader progression of the underlying technology suggests it is only going to become easier and easier for people to control machines from afar in the coming years.
The next wave of telepresence under development in laboratories suggests the technology will become significantly more immersive. For example, a team led by Mel Slater at University College London (UCL) has built a surrogate robot whose actions mirror a person's body movements. Hold out your arm for a handshake, and the robot's arm follows suit. The bot isn't mobile, but you can greet people, gesture and manipulate objects. It is currently controlled by a bodysuit but, in principle, motion capture like Kinect could be employed to do the same job down the line, "and at a fraction of the cost", says Slater.
New Scientist (sub required)