A drone robot hovering above barren ground.

Extending the Reach of Telepresence

I recently began a project using the AR Parrot Drone.  While trying to dig up some information on how to fly, hack, and otherwise use my new toy, I came across Henry Evans and  “Robots for Humanity.” We’ve previously done stories on how Telepresence has assisted students to attend classes from home or a hospital, but Henry has taken this to a whole new level.  Working with Willow Garage’s PR2 he has been able to shave and feed himself and perform all sorts of tasks around his home.  Though Henry is a quadriplegic, he is no longer bed-ridden and can explore the world around him and is using the PR2 as his real life avatar.   

Knightscope team at PlugandPlay2013

Knightscope's K5 security robot

If there’s a robot out there that will pave the way to protect and serve the public, Knightscope’s K5 will be the one.  Inspired by recent school shootings, founders William Sanata Li and Stacy Stephens sought to create new ways to improve security.  Founded in early 2013, they had their first prototype by December and have been receiving accolades since.  They recently received the “Hottest Company” award by PlugandPlay for March 2014 and closed a Million Dollar seed round according to Angel List.  

Image of the Orihime home robot

Telepresence Avatars

The Orihime home aims to be an avatar for your home, when you’re out and about. Whereas a typical telepresence robot will display your image on a screen, the Orihime avatar will convey your emotions and actions. We’re a little unsure as to how a user would actually control the avatar, though software with pre-programmed body language movements or facial recognition software wouldn’t be out of the question.

Orihime was originally designed as a complete humanoid robot, (see video below) with nearly 30 servos. As most higher end humanoid robots used in research go upwards of $12,000 using 20 servo motors, there is likely a limited market for it. Wanting to usher Orihime into homes, the Japanese researchers reduced him to the basics, leaving just a head, neck, and base. With two degrees of freedom it provides some basic desktop mobility, however the lack of arms is a hindrance, since many people talk and convey emotion with their hands, you are really just left with head nods.

Anybots robot facing the camera with its blue eyes glowing

Is 2014 the year Telepresence goes from big to huge?

2013 Was a great year for advancements in robotics.  The culmination of which ended in style with the DARPA Robotics Challenge trials.  Unlike the 2005 DARPA Autonomous Vehicle challenge which resulted in vehicles like the Google car, don’t expect to see C3-PO anytime soon.  Service robots for commercial use still have some serious obstacles to overcome.  Opening doors and turning knobs (in a timely manner) still requires a lot of planning to complete, but with some hard work and lots of machine learning it will happen.  

2013 also wrapped up with not one but two mentions in their Best of What’s New.  The BeamPro from Suitable Technologies and the RP Vita by In-Touch Health and iRobot.  At this year’s CES, Telepresence had a much larger presence than last year.  Not only did Suitable ship about 50 BEAMs, you had newcomers like the Synergy Swan,  along with veterans like MantaroBot and iRobot.

PR2 robot at the Maker Faire 2011 conference.

Robots Without Borders

I heard a great story a few months ago. The researchers at Willow Garage didn’t like doing dishes, so they outsourced the task. In most other companies who hire a cleaning service, the story stops there. This is a bit different as Willow Garage is the creator of the PR2, a $285,000, anthropomorphic robot. Capable of walking the dog, folding laundry or grabbing your favorite beverage from the refrigerator, it is one of the most highly capable robots available. With its telepresence capability, washing dishes is an easy task, at least easier for the PR2 than the researchers, albeit with some hired help at the helm.

It's a good week to be a robot.

This will be an exciting weekend for the robotics world.  Starting today, the DARPA Grand Robotics Challenge takes place at the Homestead-Miami Speedway.  Seventeen teams will compete on a grueling eight stage course that will test the limits of robotics as we know it.    In order to win, humanoid robots will have to drive a vehicle, climb a ladder, move debris, manipulate tools, just to name a few tasks.  This weekend is just the trials though and the tasks will be taken in stages, but by next year they will have to complete all eight stages consecutively.  Though the anticipation is high, we do have to recognize the monumental task that was put down upon these teams.  As with the DARPA autonomous vehicle competition back in 2004, the first year of the challenge, no team made it past the 8 mile mark.  In other words they all failed, a year later however, multiple teams crossed the finish line.  The leader of the winning team from Stanford, Sebastian Thrun, went on to work with Google’s Autonomous car group.            

Telepresence robots being viewed by children

In the beginning....

Whether you realize it or not, Telepresence has been around for over a decade, with some pretty humble beginnings. With software like Skype celebrating the 10th anniversary of its initial release bringing video conferencing to the masses, I thought I should highlight one of the first commercial Telepresence models that was available back then.

Developed by Telbotics back in the late 1990’s, PEBBLES, (Providing Education By Bringing Learning Environments to Students), it was originally a research project from the University of Toronto and Ryerson University. In 2005 it was featured as part of Wired magazine NextFest, which gives you an idea as to how innovative Telepresence was at the time. For a little more perspective on the technology at that time, the initial release of the iPhone was still another two years away.

Pet telepresence robot shown inside a home.

Pet Telepresence

One of the questions I was asked while Beaming at the recent RoboBusiness conference, was just how many consumer applications for telepresence there were.  While most systems are primarily enterprise solutions and cost upwards of $10,000, there are a few like the Double, Swivl, or Kubi, which are a little more down to earth for the average user.  One area I had heard about, but never fully covered was applications for pets.

Website Launch and Welcome

TelepresenceRobots.com is proud to finally launch our website. We hope that this website will grow to be a center of information pertaining to telepresence robotics, consumer robots, and related products that provide telepresence and enhanced remote communication. Our primary goal for the website is to bring together the most useful information regarding telepresence robots so that our visitors will be more fully informed about the benefits that each robot can offer. That information, coupled with the robot reviews, will enable visitors to make the best decision possible when purchasing their own telepresence robot or robots.


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