It looks like the rise of the machines is happening faster than we thought. While not replacing the accountant – there’s still a living, breathing CPA on the other end – robots have already started appearing in accounting firms. Or at least, in one accounting firm.
“George”, named after the star of the 1970s futuristic cartoon The Jetsons, is the newest employee at Wise Advice, a platinum Xero firm.
The robot accountant is the brainchild of New Zealand entrepreneur Brad Golchin who brought the idea back from San Francisco. Technology companies with multiple offices across the US are using these robots as stand-ins for senior executives who want to participate in meetings, talk to staff and generally convey a sense of presence in remote offices.
Golchin uses George to the same effect as he moves frequently between offices in Sydney, Australia and Auckland, New Zealand. (Hat tip: This is just over a year after Invitbox’s Roger Gregg first suggested on Digital First that machines that could replace accountants.)
George is made by a US company called Double Robotic. It uses a modified Segway-style design to move between rooms; it can also raise and lower its iPad “head” to standing or sitting height for conversations around tables. It is controlled remotely through an app on an iPhone or on a browser.
The software uses a Skype-like interface to broadcast the user’s voice and video image to the iPad on George’s head. The user can also share their desktop screen, display a presentation and take photos. Battery life lasts nine hours and when depleted the robot returns to its recharging dock.
Wise Advice staff took a while to adjust to their new colleague, Golchin says. “They freaked out in the beginning. It’s very quiet. You can go behind people and they wouldn’t know,” he says.
Golchin has plans to send the US$2500 machine to attend the next Xero conference in Melbourne in his stead. “I can communicate with anyone there,” he says.
Another idea on the drawing board is to give George a basket and send him to a shopping mall. The robot can pay with a PayWave payment tag, take a photo of the receipt and send it directly to Receipt Bank, Golchin says.
A possible retail version could use cloud POS app Vend on the iPad to take payments.
“You can direct customers to push the button on your face to buy something,” Golchin says. “There are so many applications for it. I don’t think it’s been used the way it should be.”