Test-driving the Anybots QB

Trevor and the Anybots QB

Hanging around with the QB

As readers have seen in the earlier articles this month, Anybots announced their public availability of the QB. The week before, Trevor gave me an interview which I published here using the newest version of the QB.

In this article, I discuss the use of the QB and the aspects that I both enjoyed and could see improvements for in the coming versions.

Using the QB

At present, the QB system is very nice in a number of ways.

  • Controlling the QB from the keyboard was quite natural – and the obstacle avoidance feature made navigating in unfamiliar territory (e.g, doorways, corners) much easier to move through unfamiliar territory.
  • The HD video was nice – especially when I wanted to “be” in the conversation. The ability to see Trevor’s responses were enhanced with the improved video. The SD is great for normal conversation or traveling, but the HD is great with solid bandwidth.
  • The HD zoom was also very useful for seeing objects or writing on whiteboards – as you can see in the video below.
  • The video system allows for a progressive fill of the video as you turn left or right – which both gave me a sense of motion and a sense of satisfaction as the video refreshed and filled (see the opening part of the video below).
  • I loved the height of the QB – Trevor could bring my “head” to his eye-level whether we were standing and talking or sitting at a table. The QB goes from 30 inches to 6′ 4″ via the carbon-fiber adjustment mechanism, which can be easily adjusted by the person/people on the other side of the conversation.
  • Dual navigation view – having a small version of the view in the head camera window was very helpful and then bringing up the larger version of the view via a Shift key was a nice touch.
  • The iconography – I am a sucker for the little QB showing off the state of the QB (look toward the lower left of the video to see what I mean).

In the video below, I grabbed a snippet of my time with Trevor to show off the SD, HD and HD zoom system.

Unfortunately, a bad editing experience happened and we lost the remainder of the video.

Potential Improvements

The number one improvement the QB could use is one that every RPS I have tested/used experiences – how to handle network congestion/dropout. Too often in the beginning of our conversation, the wifi at the Anybots’ office (which is shared by the folks at Y-Combinator) would fail due to load – and I would see Trevor disappear in a shower of pixels. While I recognize the challenge all of the RPS makers have with addressing an external network concern, I highly recommend a focus on creating a graceful way of addressing the network congestion issue.

The most disconcerting experience was when the screen froze and I could see the pixelation occur and then saw brief glimpses of what was happening to me (the QB) at the office. After a few moments, the next thing I knew, I was at another location in the space, somewhat disoriented. While it took me very little time to reorient myself, I could understand how one might be uncomfortable with this sudden change.

The audio experience was reasonable – Trevor could hear me quite well, but I needed to use my headphones to enjoy a good audio experience of the remote location. But once I plugged in my headphones, audio was clear as a bell – as long as the network was stable. Directionality was solid, and the dynamic range was much fuller than other systems.

The two way video was an improvement – Trevor could see my face when I enabled my webcam, but I wondered if the size and placement of the LCD display was effective. It became obvious that when speaking with Trevor for a prolonged period, he would naturally drift into looking at the “eyes” of the QB, which included my video camera to see him. I could not see how I looked to Trevor (as you do when using video Skype) which may be an additional feature request for Version 3.

There were some user interface hiccups I enjoyed (e.g., accidentally switching video resolution when trying to navigate with the keyboard) which with some additional interface work will improve the experience overall.

All in all, the QB is a good Version 2 product that is on the way to the Version 3. I am quite curious to see how things will improve in time.

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