"Lord British", Richard Garriott has always been known as being a little bit odd. I mean - he was the brains behind the Ultima series, which was pretty crazy at the time. Then he travelled to space in 2008. Now, he's managed to top even that achievement, replacing himself with a robot.
While Garriott's public life has focussed primarily on technology, the inspiration for this cyber-Mini-Me came from a very private place: His 2010 wedding.
According to reports, Garriott "desperately" wanted his mother to attend the celebration, held in a French chateau, but she didn't feel able to handle the long-haul flight from Las Vegas. So he set about finding a different way for her to be there.
The answer: QB60, which now wanders around the Austin studios of Garriott's latest endeavour, Portalarium. The bot cost $15,000 and is created by Californian company Anybots, Inc., designed as a "personal avatar" or an "ever-present telepresence".
It sort of resembles a two-wheeled Segway, but also features a microphone, speaker, and two cameras. Controlling the device is simple, via a laptop computer and an internet connection.
So, while Garriott's mother stayed at home in Las Vegas, QB60 made its grand appearance at the French wedding, accompanied by a cardboard cut-out of Mom.
In case you were wondering, the robot did not remain static for the celebrations, as Garriott explains:
One of the best scenes at the wedding was my mother, you know, fully dressed at the end of the evening on the dance floor, on the disco dance floor, you know, with that nice parquet floor, us in our wedding gown and wedding attire, all of our friends dressed to the teeth, colored laser lights going all over the place -- and my mother here as the robot, jamming down with all the youngsters on the dance floor.
After the wedding, however, Garriott had other plans for this expensive piece of gadgetry: An even higher-tech twist on telecommuting.
My wife and her businesses are up in New York. My life and my businesses are here in Austin, Texas, but that means I go back and forth a lot. And so whenever I'm traveling, and especially if I'm up in New York, this is how I still participate on a daily basis here in our Austin office.
These days, while he's physically in New York, Garriott will wake up QB60 and take it for a stroll around the Austin Portalarium offices, chatting to employees about current projects in real time. He also tends to sit the robot in the corner of a room to listen to studio discussions and get the "real scoop" on what's going on.
According to colleagues speaking to local media, the jauntily-moustached QB60 is just like any other office worker, with a slight issue when it comes to personal space (we're guessing the camera-eyes aren't so great at depth perception). It's "a lot like just having him here," observes associate game producer Susan Kath.
Garriott also attends employee meetings in his new body, and says that feeling like he's in the room has relieved some of the pressures and challenges of travel. (As well as - surprise - saving money, as Garriott no longer has to return to Texas for a simple meeting.)
$15,000 is a fair bit of money to spend when - realistically - most of the functionality is possible with just a laptop and a webcam, but where's the style and flair in that? Such a low-budget hack might work for mere mortals, but this is Lord British, after all.
Thanks to Miss Brenna for pointing this story out to us!
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Jimmy the Geek