This Week In Bots: Telepresence Is Coming Home

Are you ready?

This Week In Bots: Telepresence Is Coming Home


Bot Vid: Robot Ray

University of Virginia scientists have made a robotic clone of a cow-nosed ray, using biomimicry techniques to copy the ray’s firm body, flexible silicone wings that have rod and cable-assemblies inside so they can contract and bend much like a real ray’s wing can when it swims with its unique motions. As the Automaton blog points out, this isn’t simply for fun: A robotic ray vehicle has great potential for environmental monitoring and maybe even surveillance implications.

Bot Vid: Nao’s Spiral Staircase Skills

Walking up stairs is already a tricky maneuver for robots–just ask Asimo–but researchers at the University of Freiburg have augmented a little Nao experimental bot so its stereo camera vision system teams with a Hokuyo 2D laser scanner that gives it an accurate scan of the environment around it. This means Nao can detect the edge and orientation of stairs with enough precision that it can actually manage to climb up a spiral staircase. 


Bot Vid: Tentacles Outclass Wheels And Bi-pedal Walking

Meet Metallic Vaio which has custom-made tentacles for legs and which recently competed in the Kondo Land multi-leg robot obstacle race. Where a typical robotic leg may have six degrees of freedom, Vaio has 18 in its tentacles, which means it can curl and unfurl them with great dexterity so it can roll and crawl and move a little like a crab or spider. In the future robots that use tentacular locomotion may be incredibly useful in search and rescue environments, where wheeled, tracked or walking bots may find it difficult to maneuver on uneven terrain.


Bot News

Lifesaverbot. U.S.-firm Hydronalix has been testing a robotic lifesaving aid for beaches. Emily–the Emergency Integrated Life-saving Lanyard–is a 25-pound motorized robot that can swim at up to 25 miles and hour and provide flotation support for up to six people. It’s been under evaluation for a while now, and is in the news because this month it saved a father and son in trouble in the waters off Depoe Bay, Oregon. Hydronalix hopes Emily will see a bigger roll-out across the country to help lifeguards deal with tricky rescues in dangerous water.

Water-striderbot. Scientists have built the first biomimicing robot that can walk on water just like a real water strider. So good is its control of its tiny limbs and the surface tension of the water it’s walking on, that as well as striding it can even jump up and down on the water too–clearing the surface by five inches. Ultimately robots like this may have environmental uses, as well as more obvious surveillance ones where they could approach targets almost in an almost undetectable way.

Bot Futures: Telepresence Is Coming Home

Telepresence is an exciting technology because it combines both robotics and wireless video innovations to deliver a genuinely new experience–the ability to be remotely present in meaningful ways at a distant location, via a robot avatar. It’s got obvious enterprise uses, and just this week iRobot has revealed its RP-Vita robot that’s the most advanced robotic telepresence system for medical environments…iRobot’s CEO even suggested to Fast Company that in some ways it may be better than being physically present.

But telepresence is soon to be a technology that you may have in your home, for all the reasons outlined above–and it’s easy to see that in a situation where a partner does a lot of business travel or is deployed in the military, having a telepresence robot could add that little extra frisson of personal interaction compared to a simple Skype call.


And the best bit is that home telepresence devices may actually cost much less than the typical multi-thousands of dollars that these machines have cost up until now. If a current Kickstarter project is anything to go by, then they could cost as little as $200.

This is Botiful, pitched by its makers as the “first consumer telepresence robot.” It’s directly integrated into Skype and is designed to roam around on a table top, rather than beetle around the floor of your home (although there’s no reason it couldn’t do this, if you wanted to, say, have a chat with your cat). They suggest it’s ideal for baby monitoring, for playing remotely with your kids, safely check under your car, or even to bring remote friends to a party that you’re throwing. It has on-screen controls to move it around and point it at what you want to see while you’re mid-Skype, and it looks pretty easy to use.

Best of all is the fact the team’s built an SDK into the system, so that it’s possible to write apps for the robot–including adding abilities like face detection, but ultimately also enabling novel games to be played or for other peripherals to be plugged in.

And you know that where a self-starter project like this can achieve success, it won’t be long before other well-known manufacturers climb on board and start releasing telepresence solutions that are bigger, bolder…and perhaps even taller, approaching the scale of current enterprise-centric telepresence machines. At this point they really will become important, because you could be, say, cooking in the kitchen and turn around to have a conversation with your remote partner, who’s image is at face height.

The question is: Are you ready to embrace this next-generation of robot-enhanced Skyping?


[Image: Flickr user lennycliffbanger ]

Chat about this news with Kit Eaton on Twitter and Fast Company too.

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