February 19, 2014

AKSHAT: The robot age has arrived

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I work for Cornell’s  Student Technology Assistant program, where fellow students and I assisted Cornell employees and students with academic technology ranging anywhere from Blackboard and iClicker assistance to 3D print requests.

One of my favorite aspects about working at the Academic Technology Center is the fact that they doubled as the proving ground for new technology that might be used across campus, so I was especially excited when a new robot arrived in our office.  His name was Double, and he was a telepresence robot that used an iPad as a face and had wheels to move around. Double could be remotely accessed and controlled by a computer or another iPad, as was made to be used by students who could not physically attend their classes. Aficionados of The Big Bang Theory may remember Sheldon Cooper using a similar robot to telecommute when he got too paranoid to leave his building.

I spent most of my shifts today playing with he robot and writing a rudimentary instruction manual for other people in my department to start working with, so eventually one of us might be able to explain it to someone who would have a use for it. I messed around a bit, but finally got the task done. It was as easy to use as a Bluetooth headset. Pair, login, and go. I had a field day intruding on other people’s desks.

But what I found most surprising was that a robot in the workplace is no longer a novelty item. A new robot arrived and was unpacked; I read through the one-page manual and prepped it for others to use.  It was as routine as the arrival of a new printer. Just five years ago, robots were not seriously considered as workplace fixtures. Now, a robot arrives and is quietly put into use. The robot age has arrived – not with a bang though, but with a whimper.