Telepresence robots allow you to engage with people and the environment from a separate location. Imagine a busy doctor seeing a series of patients from the comfort of his home, or a CEO scooting around the office to see how the latest project is going, all from his seat aboard a business flight 30,000 feet over the Pacific. By being able to move around, you aren’t limited to a stationary conference call set up, which allows more people and professionals to use this kind of technology.
Californian robotics company Anybots built their first telepresence robot, QA, in 2008. The robot has a friendly appearance, self-balances on a pair of wheels, and can even guide your attention by pointing at things with a built-in laser pointer. Standing 152cm (5′) tall and weighing approximately 25kg (55 lbs), a user’s face is displayed on an LCD screen in the robot’s chest. QA uses LIDAR to navigate at a rate of up to 10km/h (6mph) and can be controlled through a simple “video game” style interface. Operators see whatever the robot’s 5 MP cameras do, at 20 fps. Initial feedback about the expensive price ($30,000 USD) and that the LCD screen’s lower position (on the robot’s chest) wasn’t ideal for face-to-face conversations led to a new version.
The newer, slimmer, less costly QB is now in the testing phase. The robot weighs only 16kg (35 lbs) and has the added feature of a telescopic neck that can be adjusted between 86cm to 188cm (2’9″ to 6’2″) tall. QB also uses less motors (from 6 down to 1) which means it can’t tilt its head to laser point at objects or bend at the waist like QA, so it’s less expensive ($15,000 USD). The small screen which displays the person operating the robot has been moved to a more prominent position on top of the robot, which should facilitate conversations according to Anybots’ CEO Trevor Blackwell.
Although I do prefer QA’s more finessed overall design and capabilities (such as being able to point at things with the laser), QB seems like a good cost-cutting measure given the current economy. With its reduced body weight it has better balance and can operate longer (6~8 hours to a charge), and when not in action it has a kickstand to take the load off. The robot will be demonstrated at IREX 2009, and Anybots hopes to have a commercial version ready sometime in 2010.
Impress Robot Watch | Anybots