Power seller
Local firm developing real estate robot agent

CONYERS - Robots may soon handle a lot of work Realtors find the hardest - being available to show houses to prospective buyers.

During a demonstration of the 4-foot robot called "Carole" on Thursday at the home of Brad and Susan Fox on Haralson Mill Road, local Realtor Jo Carter Harbin said she wasn't too worried about being replaced by a machine any time soon.

"You still have to close the deal," Harbin said. "There is too much paperwork and too much negotiating skills required in the art of selling in real estate."

Even so, Harbin said she sees great potential in using robots to help sell houses.

Carole is mounted with a camera that can transmit video images anywhere. So, rather than viewing still photographs normally found on real estate Web sites, prospective buyers could one day tour a house by watching streaming video and command Carole to move from room to room or zoom in on particular features.

Then there's the possibility of Carole "showing" a house to potential buyers, freeing up the real estate agent to be elsewhere, perhaps walking through another house.

Carole is the latest robot prototype from Conyers-based GeckoSystems. Company president and CEO Martin Spencer said he sees Carole as another logical step in GeckoSystems' line of robots, referred to as BaseBot technology.

GeckoSystems already developed CareBot, a personal servant robot that can care for elderly or housebound people. The CareBot performs simple tasks, like dispensing medicine or giving reminders to do things. Those robots can also monitor patients and contact family members or medical professionals when needed.

Spencer said those tasks are easily developed for other uses performed by robots. For example, SecurityBot can patrol a business or warehouse, collect sound and video data and contact law enforcement when called upon.

Carole follows a line of other prototype robots that have been or are currently being developed. First there was Emily. Then there was Eve, who was followed by Lucy and Kelly.

"You can't say what these robots can do in five words," Spencer said when asked what Carole does. "With an airplane, you can say 'it flies,' and you pretty much have covered it all. With our robots, you can say it is remote surveillance without bumping into things, but still that doesn't say exactly what it does."

Carole is a 4-foot tall computer on wheels. The robot has some artificial intelligence capabilities in the form of infrared and sonic sensors that allows it to move on its own freely without bumping into objects.

Carole can also be programmed to speak and respond to voice commands. During Thursday's demonstration, a GeckoSystems engineer told Carole to move, and Carole responded in a computerized voice, "I feel the need for speed" and scooted off into the foyer.

Carole cracks jokes, too. In the kitchen, the robot asked "Why did the teacher cross her eyes? She couldn't control her pupils."

However, with all of her capabilities, Carole is still in development. During the demonstration at the Fox residence, she rolled into a wall. An inset light fixture overhead was suspected as the culprit in confusing Carole's sensors.

"Those lights put out a lot of infrared," Spencer said. "We can do so much in the lab. That's why we come out here to test."

GeckoSystems currently sells robots for around $20,000, which are built individually to suit the customer's needs. Spencer said the company's goal is to get the price down to $12,000 or $15,000 per unit. GeckoSystem's stock began trading on an over-the-counter securities market in February.

Spencer said the company also hopes to find a manufacturer partner in China that will help with production and gain a foothold in the growing Asian market for robots.

Jay Jones can be reached at jay.jones@rockdalecitizen.com.