robot bosses - TimIf there’s one thing nearly every American can agree on it’s that having aerial surveillance cameras capable of eavesdropping on our every move from outer space is a wonderful thing. Oh, sure, sometimes surveillance cameras can be used for evil, like the time they caught me doing 45 in a 35 mph zone. But video technology can also be used for good – say, to observe remotely whether employees are wasting time at work playing video games, when they should be wasting time pretending to make sales calls.

That at least appears to be the thinking behind a new, state-of-the art mobile video robot called the Ava 500, a name most experts consider a far better selection than the original idea: the Self-Navigational Operations Observational Prototype (SNOOP for short). The Ava 500 is the world’s “first self-driving business collaboration robot,” according to the manufacturer’s cheery marketing brochure. Now, business executives can collaborate with employees without leaving their corner office, using a mobile robot with a two-way video camera that lets them roam the halls or join in on team meetings remotely. Employees will love it.

Want to check in on your crew of illegal Mexican factory workers to see if they are keeping pace with their production quota of 1,500 sneakers per hour? No problem. With the press of a button, you can remotely walk along the assembly line floor to inspect the quality of their work, without leaving your yacht in the Caymans. Hey, looks like it’s already been ten minutes and Pedro’s still not back from his five-minute lunch break. Uh oh. Looks like Pedro’s got some ‘splaining to do.

The Ava 500 is built by iRobot, the same company that brought you the Roomba, a self-guided mini-vacuum robot and the perfect tool for terrorizing house cats. Skeptics scoff that the Ava 500 resembles a rolling parking meter. But don’t be confused. The Ava 500 doesn’t take quarters. But it does take incredibly detailed videos of whatever managers want to observe, including that stash of pot Pedro left on his desk. Oh, Pedro is so fired. And thanks to the Ava 500, firing employees from 2,000 miles away has never been easier.

Companies are using this powerful mobile video robot to improve communication with remote locations, cut down on travel costs of busy executives and improve employee morale. With fewer visits from assholes from Corporate, employees have never been happier – especially when they gather round to watch the Ava 500 unsuccessfully attempt to negotiate its way down a flight of stairs. It’s hilarious.

robot bosses - RoombaAnd now that companies have Ava 500s roaming every production line floor and every bank of cubicles, they are seeing dramatic gains in productivity, thanks to the fact that employees’ moves are now under 24/7 scrutiny. However, Facebook status updates appear to have fallen noticeably since the arrival of these mobile office droids. Experts caution that it’s possible to abuse how managers employ this state-of-the-art video robot technology and suggest some basic Dos and Don’ts.

DO give your robot a friendly name like Charlie, Todd or perhaps Thad, to make employees feel less threatened.

DON’T have “Charlie” swing by your employees’ cubicles every fifteen minutes asking “Have you submitted your TPS report yet?” Unless they’ve seen the film Office Space, they won’t get the joke.

DO use it to facilitate brainstorming sessions between Corporate and your manufacturing plant about how to eliminate waste in the production process.

DON’T have it stand next to Pedro with an arrow pointing at Pedro with the sign, “Here’s a way to eliminate waste.” 

DO remember to reboot your robot periodically. The software is still a bit buggy.

DON’T use the AVA 500 to spy on employees in the break room to see if they’re smoking or drinking in violation of company rules. (Use the AVA 630 Micro Bot instead– installs in any overhead light fixture in minutes. They’ll never even notice it.)

robot bosses - HallwayDO encourage employees to try using the AVA 500 on their own so they can see how it can help them.

DON’T encourage employees to ride around the factory floor on Ava’s back. Or attempt to maneuver her down 5th Avenue during Rush Hour. Or attempt to have sex with her. I trust the reasons for all of these do not require elaboration.

Companies that have installed this exciting new technology have observed a 36% drop in employee theft, a 49% drop in workplace drinking, and an 85% drop in employees wanting to work there anymore.

I was so impressed by the potential of this technology that I have installed one to monitor our kids’ behavior in the house while I’m at work. I’ve named my robot Margaret. Just the other day, my younger daughter insisted she was home alone all day, reading the biography of Abraham Lincoln, but thanks to Margaret’s 20 mega-pixel retinal imaging camera, I could see that she had her boyfriend over and they were, well, let’s just say they did not learn much about The Civil War.

I thought about going into her room for a father-daughter talk on the importance of trust, but that seemed an inefficient use of my time. Instead, thanks to Margaret, I was able to lecture her from the comfort of my bed while watching a Mariners game on TV.

Or at least I thought I could do that. My wife told me never to do it again. How did she know that I’d done it? Apparently, Margaret is a snitch. Damn.

That’s the view from the bleachers. Perhaps I’m off base.

Tim Jones - Profile at Safeco - TinyPS: If you enjoyed this week’s post, let me know by posting a comment, giving it thumbs upa  or sharing this post on Facebook. And if your boss catches you reading this blog at work, remind them about all the great business ideas you’ve gleaned from reading this blog. On second thought, you may have better luck complimenting them on their new haircut. Yeah, I’d go with that. 

© Tim Jones, View from the Bleachers 2013

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