The new employee, via digital commute

IvanAnywhere is a telepresence robot that allows a remote employee teleconference to office via a moving base.

Comments Off on The new employee, via digital commute April 7, 2009
by André Voshart

In Waterloo, Ont.-based Sybase iAnywhere’s offices, software programmer Ivan Bowman can do everything a normal employee can, such as talk with co-workers, attend meetings and lounge with the boss.

And he does this all from the comfort of his home in Halifax.

Web cameras and peer-to-peer telephone networks such as Skype have changed how people connect and communicate, but a handful of employees at iAnywhere, a company focused on mobile and embedded databases and mobile management and security, have taken it one revolution of a robotic wheel farther with IvanAnywhere, a homemade 75-pound telecommuting robot.

Since “Ivan” was thought up a couple years ago, Bowman has graced the office with his real-time digital presence on a screen display, using a 50º up-and-down tilt and 150º total pan to see and a 20-to-30-foot audio range to hear. The robot employs SQL Anywhere 10.0.1 to monitor its status, including the battery, driving, pan, tilt usage and when proximity sensors slow IvanAnywhere down.

Ian McHardy in Waterloo, Ont., talks with Halifax-based co-worker Ivan Bowman through an early iteration of the company’s homegrown telecommuting robot.

Bowman has worked remotely for seven years, and for several years, him and boss Glenn Paulley have tried to improve the experience. “They had the static setup before, with a computer on a desk with a web cam,” said co-worker Ian McHardy, who built the device, “and they have always wished they could do something better.” Paulley and McHardy brainstormed different ways to make Bowman’s presence more real, tossing around ideas like using a remote-controlled blimp (which, they realized, would be a maintenance nightmare).

So in December 2006, McHardy developed a rough prototype using a radio-controlled truck, mounting a camera on a mast. The base was inappropriately small for the application, but he proved that it could be done.

“At work we have an initiative where employees—for certain approved projects—can spend up to 10 percent of their time working on a side project,” McHardy said. “So it was approved for me to start doing this.” » Story continued on next page

Visit IvanAnywhere’s YouTube channel