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Can a Robot Be Human? At Cisco it Can!

- September 29, 2016 - 2 Comments

Written in conjunction with my fellow Human Resources Leadership Program colleague, Josh Skelton. 

Have you ever attended a meeting with a robot? Well, I recently attended a meeting as a robot.

That’s the amazing thing about working at Cisco – the opportunity to use our technology to connect with colleagues in a very real way while being thousands of miles apart.

How did I become a robot for a day?

So it’s Monday, and like most Mondays, there’s an important meeting I need to attend in person, in Toronto, where I’m based. However, the next morning I need to be in San Jose for a quarterly meeting for the Human Resources Leadership Program (HRLP) that I’m a part of.

I tried every combination of flights possible. I was even willing to take multiple connections and zig-zag across the map. I was looked at not only planes, but trains and automobiles. However, nothing could get me to the Bay area in time for the meeting.

Attending this meeting was very important to me. It’s a way to connect to my peers in the program and hear from Cisco leadership. Yes, I could connect virtually via Cisco’s Telepresence technology, but I was looking for more interactivity with the people in the room – being able to work in break-out teams, to have one-on-one conversations, and to navigate around the room and building.

The perfect solution? Becoming the Ava iRobot (or the Nick Bot for that day.)

So what’s it actually like to become a robot? There is definitely a learning curve. I downloaded the Ava iRobot app onto my iPad and was given a quick run-through of how to control the robot from Linda, our resident iRobot expert. Now I was ready to begin my journey.

I first had to get from the charging station to the room where the meeting was taking place. This was simple enough. With just a press of a button on my iPad I was off. I saw everything in first-person as the Ava iRobot navigated through the halls and corridors of the office. After a few minutes, the iRobot arrived at the meeting room.

First robot challenge: the door into the room was closed, and with no arms this was a tricky situation. I saw that I had two options: I could send a Jabber message to someone in the room to open the door or I could attempt to navigate the iRobot to hit the door hoping that someone inside would hear and open the door and let me in. Luckily, a passerby saw me waiting outside of the room, knocked on the door and opened it.

Robot Nick with Fran Katsoudas

I couldn’t tell what was happening in the room, yet, so that’s where fellow HRLP’er Josh Skelton takes over the tale.

“As that knock on the door happened, Fran Katsoudas, Cisco’s Chief People Officer, was answering a question from one of our fellow HRLPers. Everyone turned towards the door to see who it was, and their faces were a mix of surprise, interest and confusion as they saw the iRobot standing there with Nick’s face on it.

The sentiment immediately turned to laughter as the iRobot got stuck on the lip of the doorway for a moment. Fran paused to wait for the Nick Bot to enter. She wasn’t sure whether to continue to answer or wait. Nick Bot finally made it into the room and went right towards Fran. We captured that moment perfectly.”

Robot Nick with Fran Katsoudas

After initial awkwardness, the real value of being the Ava iRobot became clear to me. As the meeting participants broke off into break-out teams, I was able to navigate the Ava iRobot to join my team. It was a unique experience to be able to collaborate with my colleagues as if I was actually live in the room. For my colleagues in the room, the Ava iRobot also emulated a life-like Nick experience.

Cisco’s collaborative technology enabled me to still show up; to still be human. Maybe someday we’ll all attend meetings as robots. But we’ll still need to be our awesome human selves. #LoveWhereYouWork.

Want to learn more about the HRLP program or being a robot? You can Tweet Josh (@JoshJSkelton) or myself (@NicktheHRGuy) or comment below.

Want to join the Cisco team? Check out open opportunities.

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2 Comments

  1. That is awesome! I love that even though the person is not there, they can have a more first person experience in this way. I'm impressed. Sounds like a good conversation starter too! lol

    This was such a unique and fun way to have Nick join us in our quarterly meeting. Having him there via the Ava iRobot immediately added life and laughter to the meeting and allowed us to engage with Nick in a more personal way during the breakout sessions. I liked the experience so much that I too got an account and have appeared in several meetings using the Ava iRobot since this experience. You should try it too!

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