Who doesn’t want to be in two places at once? That’s what telepresence robots allow you to do. Unfortunately they aren’t in wide use yet. But a few companies are trying to change that, among them a start-up called Xaxxon, with the Oculus Telepresence Robot.
The Oculus is a cradle-like chassis with wheels and a robotic control system. It links to almost any netbook that is 10 inches or smaller, though the company’s site says it will work with some 11-inch models also. It has a periscope that fits a webcam and can be coupled to tilt and pan, giving the person remote views from several angles. The computer itself serves as the brains of the robot, and it can be controlled from most mobile devices as well (though the computer itself has to be a Windows machine). Power comes form the laptop battery itself and connections between Oculus and the PC are via standard USB.
What makes this interesting is the use of the laptop. While this isn’t the first time anyone has re-purposed an existing device as a robot — another start-up, Romotive, has done so with an iPhone — it shows that telepresence can be made much less expensive and easier to do. Xaxxon plans to sell a typical Oculus setup for $270 (if you go to the Kickstarter site you can reserve one for $245). That’s a lot less than the thousands of dollars typical robots sell for.
While this robot might not be able to handle entering a nuclear power plant, the Oculus could allow night watchmen, for example, to be in more than one place, and send a camera around to those places that the CCTV can’t see. It's also a handy way to recycle old laptops.
The current model is largely proof-of-concept, and if the company can get funded (the Kickstarter page shows $2,351 has been raised towards a $15,000 goal), it will likely improve it in further iterations. Xaxxon says it is working on a software development kit and the system is based on the open-source, Arduino platform.