The Versatile VGo

The VGo offers its users unusually good sound, video, driving options, and battery life for its price point, and is highly customizable whether for individual or administrative use. Set up to run on Macs, PCs, and iPads, the VGo's default interface is somewhat busy (less so on the iPad), but can be tweaked to hide less-used buttons/options. At any rate, all buttons are labeled with hover messages, so it's easy to quickly learn the layout. Computer-based users may drive the VGo via their mouse (hold and left-click to move, scroll wheel to tilt camera) or keyboard (arrow keys). A rounded arc appears in the view window when you move, enabling you to easily alter your speed, direction, and turn increments. The interface also includes a circular set of buttons to enable incremental pivoting. The camera, which folds straight down into the head when not in use, may be set to auto-tilt while driving (alternating between its base and forward), can be used to take snapshots at a higher resolution than the video stream (the video quality is not as high in order to avoid hogging bandwidth), and may zoom up to 5x with no loss of resolution. The VGo includes two speakers which provide a rich, strong sound ensuring that users' conversations flows effortlessly.

Based upon customer feedback, the VGo's motor has been updated to allow a faster upper threshold of speed than any of the other robots I've driven, which would be particularly welcome in large work spaces requiring the robot to cover more ground. The speed ranges from 1-5, plus T for Turbo and R for Reverse (very slow), and is easy to adjust on the fly. If you're uneasy about your driving ability, fear not: there are proximity sensors that will slow the robot down if they detect an obstacle. Additionally, sensors at the base of the unit are set to auto-stop before stairs, though some users may elect to deactivate this option if their location's floor features shiny black tile, which sometimes fools the sensors. Customers whose facilities use more than one VGo can make use of the extensive administrative console to easily regulate use of their robots, indicating who may use which robot and when. To ensure data security, all transmitted information is encrypted; additionally, the VGo supports most WiFi and organizational security protocols.

Thanks to the VGo's versatility and well-conceived design, numerous students, physicians, and businesses are putting it to good use. Students of all ages use the VGo to sit in on classes, a boon for those with either chronic health issues or severe physical limitations. In the case of particularly young students, the teachers may use a special remote to help the students position the robot. On the business front, the VGo's designers particularly wanted to enable companies to provide remote expert consultation at each company location. As one example, Audi now uses VGo robots (customized with special cameras for looking inside the engine) to allow their top automotive experts to provide timely input to mechanics at Audi dealer service departments around the world. In the health care sector, hospitals and physicians use the VGo to more efficiently follow up with remote patients, to monitor facilities and resting patients, and - similar to VGo's corporate clients - to enable consultation with experts elsewhere.

The VGo was deliberately designed to appear non-threatening, with a curved frame, short stature, small screen size, and very light (less than 20 pounds) build. Ned Semonite, VGo's Vice President of Products who guided me on my test drive, said that one of VGo's guiding design principles was, "Never be taller than who you're communicating with, whether they're standing, sitting at a table, or reclining in a hospital bed." Some of the VGo's other features are clearly designed to put users at ease:
--a user can mute his/her own microphone and/or camera
--a user may allow or decline a call following an advance announcement (which runs for fifteen seconds to allow the user time to make final preparations for the call)
--the small screen size only displays the head of the caller
--a user can opt to use text-to-speech (which is spoken in the VGo's mild female-sounding voice), which is very useful for the voice-impaired as well as for those who prefer an extra layer of privacy

While we've looked at a number of the VGo's many features, the above list is by no means exhaustive. Those in the market for adaptable and affordable telepresence robots will definitely want to take the VGo for a test drive and experience its versatility first-hand. I was impressed with my own experience with the robot (along with the friendly VGo personnel) and would not be surprised to see VGo at the forefront of the telepresence robot industry in the years to come.

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