Charmin's digital bot is the perfect Zoom companion: Sit on the toilet while in a work meeting and no one will know

The toilet paper giant trots out a digital bot prototype that offers a way to "slip away to do No. 1 or No. 2" while on a video conference.

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Image: Charmin/PG

Actress, host and personality Niecy Nash was the highlight of Charmin's video press conference on Monday as the Procter & Gamble subsidiary enters new territory with a digital bot prototype, the BRB Bot, that appears to be you, complete with "realistic human reactions," so you can quietly step away during virtual meetings and take a bathroom break. 

"I know I'm not the only one who's brought their computer into the bathroom, scared that I forgot to leave the mute button on and camera off," said Nash, who stars on TNT's "Claws" and a familiar face from her popular turns on "Reno 911," "Clean House," "Masters of Sex," "Scream Queens" and "Getting On." She continued, "So, when Charmin approached me to test BRB Bot, I was like 'finally someone figured out a way I can sneak off to the throne to handle my business,' if you know what I mean."

Currently beta-only, without any plans for an actual release, the BRB Bot is a desktop app that uses your camera feed and machine learning, as well as natural language processing and tone analysis to listen to video calls and then presents your digital twin (with reactions in real time), responding as though you're still actually on the call. 

Pittsburgh Steelers Wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster was also promoting Charmin's new tech in the press conference, demonstrating throughout the announcement how the tech works—basically viable, realistic reactions are recorded and then "played" when the user steps away from the meeting's video feed. 

AI and machine learning are used to deliver appropriate reactions to actual comments made by meeting attendees. Smith-Schuster's screen showed him nodding in agreement and pretending his mic and headset weren't working, as an "explanation" for what the user might have missed when they returned from their break. 

"I'm on nonstop video calls and press conferences for two to three hours at a time some days," Smith-Schuster said. "Charmin's BRB Bot is a hilariously real solve for not having to say 'BRB… gotta go!' I just switch it on and they don't know I'm gone." 

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The press conference was a curious exercise: It's not really a campaign as there are no plans for Charmin to introduce real-life use of the AI tech. The commentary at Monday's virtual press conference was often awkward as the "panel" struggled between long pauses to constantly reference visiting the toilet as the reason to step away from the meeting, instead of simply saying the innovation would be beneficial for any number of reasons a meeting attendee might need to turn attention away from the meeting from taking and making a call, addressing questions or needs of children or others in the household, letting a dog out, answering the front door, etc. 

"From video conference calls to gaming, to sports, we've been forced to adapt to living and working virtually—however, one thing that hasn't changed is when nature calls, you have to answer, no ifs, ands or 'butts' about it," said Rob Reinerman, Charmin vice president at Procter & Gamble. "At Charmin, we're obsessed with delivering a better bathroom experience whether it be providing the best toilet paper or inventing other novel ways to help people 'Enjoy the Go.' BRB Bot is yet another way Charmin is exploring better bathroom technology that could one day become reality."

It's a bit of a stretch to refer to this cool digital twin AI as "better bathroom technology," and the result of the press conference was a presentation of interesting and potentially invaluable tech, but ladened with forced commentary with its focus on bathroom business from Nash, Smith-Schuster and Reinerman. 

During CES 2020, Charmin announced the Rollbot toilet-paper robot, and while attending press on Monday asked questions regarding the Rollbot and its relation to the new BRB Bot, queries went without responses. 

In reality, the Rollbot (a robot which brings toilet paper to those stranded on a commode without a means to wipe) is an actual tactile machine and the BRB Bot is an app. They're only tied to each other in that they both represent relatively high tech for what is a toilet paper company that shot into the public consciousness from 1964 to 1985 with its long-running campaign starring grocer Mr. Whipple and his unanswered pleas to customers to stop squeezing the toilet paper. 

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By N.F. Mendoza

N.F. Mendoza is a writer at TechRepublic and based in Los Angeles. She has a BA in Broadcast Journalism and Cinema Critical Studies and a Master's of Professional Writing, both from USC. Nadine has more than 20 years experience as a journalist coveri...