The Visualist Blog

New telepresence robots: iPads on wheels

New telepresence robots: iPads on wheelsDouble Robotics has announced that it will release the Double, a self-balancing telepresence robot, this December. This means that for perhaps the first time ever, a true multi-functional robot will be relatively accessible to the public, or at least anyone with $2,000 and a couple of iPads. Double is basically an iPad app combined with a robotic stand on a set of wheels. The Double holds one iPad while a second iPad (or iPhone, Android, PC) runs an app that becomes the remote control. Very cool.

While telepresence is nothing new, telepresence robots seem to be on the rise and the technology seems to be improving. The Double seems to be the most affordable and uses common off-the-shelf hardware: iPads.

I have found myself to be a little frustrated with the concept of telepresence. Like Virtual Reality, it’s a term that’s slowly become watered down throughout the years as the industry hasn’t lived up to the promise of having the ability to “be there” without physically being present. There have been a few products over the past few years that caught my attention and restored my confidence in the industry to create something that seems realistic, affordable and futuristic enough that it will “wow” people.

iRobot has obviously been a big player in robotic telepresence evolution. Rodney Brooks, co-founder of iRobot, discussed the coolness of home telepresence robots with me and a group of UMass faculty around 1998 in downtown Amherst. The idea must have been part of his work at iRobot at the time. Since then, iRobot has introduced a plethora of robots with differing functionality. They introduced Ava a couple of years ago.  Ava can be steered remotely and independently while you’re on the road or at work. Or you could drive it into your kitchen to see if you turned off the coffee maker while you’re at the airport. Earlier his year at CES, iRobot demoed an iPad-driven prototype of Ava.

Other telepresence robots we’ve seen over the past few years include the VGo, which serves functions in the medical, education and business sectors. Botiful is a smaller telepresence robot that works with on an Android platform.  Anybots released its own telepresence robot, which doesn’t have live video, but instead features an LCD screen on its face with a still photo of the operator.  It seems as though the Double will be a nice simplification of these concepts!

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