Forget Robotic Telepresence—How About Controlling Another Human?

By Joelle Renstrom | Published

zabosuThe idea of robotic telepresence isn’t new — via a robot and Skype, you could visit your grandma in a nursing home across the country, or attend your son’s wedding in Paris, even if you’re not able to travel. I guess it was only a matter of time until someone thought, hey, why send a robot as a proxy if you could send another person instead? I guess someone watched Avatar a few too many times?

Zabosu allows a person to control another person via smartphone (more so than usual). I, the “Zab” in this example, could sit at my computer and, via the Zabosu website, pick a “Zuk” — a human I want to do some errand or task for me. The website would tell me which Zuks are available in my area, what their particular skills are, etc., and I’d choose from there. Then we’d use a microphone, smartphone, camera, and WiFi to connect, and the Zabosu website would stream video and two-way audio so I could see what my Zuk was doing. I could send my Zuc to campus to deliver a lecture — if I wanted to lose my job. More realistically, I could send my Zuc to the grocery store to get dinner fixings. And if I didn’t trust him or her to follow my list, I could supervise the trip and say, “Hey, that pepper looks wrinkly, pick the plump one on the left.”

In essence, a Zuk becomes a Zab’s personal “robot.” Except the Zuk gets paid. Zuks can name their own price, and the site deducts the estimated amount from the Zab’s account. Videos of the Zuks’ forays are available on the site as well, in case the Zuks want to prove their worth as mercenaries.


Zabosu has a Kickstarter…er, make that had a Kickstarter. When I went to the page this morning, the project had been canceled after eight backers had pledged $550 of a $100,000 goal. So Zabosu barely got off the ground before its creator pulled the plug. I tried to find out why that happened, but there was no news or updates to be found. I think perhaps the premise was flawed. If I needed someone to grocery shop for me, there are services that will do that — I don’t need to monitor it. The Kickstarter talks about sending a Zuk to go sightseeing, but why would anyone do that? It wouldn’t be so different than looking at online videos of a place — if I’m going to sightsee, I’m going to do it myself. I wouldn’t send a Zuk to a conference or trade show either. If anything, that’s when I’d Skype myself through a robot with telepresence capabilities so at least I could interact with whatever’s there. Zabosu is also ripe with potential for misuse — I could see one of these errands going wrong pretty easily. But I’m sure that’s not the last we’ll hear of this idea. When my students start sending Zuks to class in their stead, I’ll know it’s caught on.