We have been quietly observing and evaluating our options before we finally decided to get a telepresence robot. Telepresence technology dates back to 1993 (Human Productivity Lab) and telepresence robots are not completely new.
There is a growing array of telepresence robot options (see comparison) and the list is bound to get cheaper and better. Before we settled on getting the Double Robotics robot, we tested the Suitable Technologies Beam. The Beam robot is a pretty solid solution, but it lacked one of our primary requirements: an SDK. We wanted a platform that we could “hack” to explore different scenarios. So we got the Double 2 robot, which does have and SDK and promptly gave it a name: Elliot after the main character in Mr. Robot.
As far as usability, driving around is not difficult at all. The Double 2 does lack a wide angle camera or foot camera since it uses the camera from the iPad. (Edit: It was pointed to me that The Double 2 standard set includes an attachable, 150 degree wide-angle camera and an always-on downward facing camera. We just didn’t buy the standard set.) But driving the Double 2 feels really smooth, so moving around to look and moving side to side is not a problem. The iPad housing has a mirror pointing to the bottom so you can switch to the back camera and see the bottom. There is an Audio Kit with external mic and speaker that helps you hear and be heard better. Overall the experience is good as long as you have good internet connectivity.
I have been virtually attending some of our Cloud Lab tours and the reaction is always positive. I also attended a couple meetings and felt a bit more integrated. Maybe that would wear off with time, but that is one of the reason we have it, to research the human aspect of these devices.
I am eagerly working on making Elliot a little more smart. Thanks to the SDK I can automate movement, but sadly the Double 2 doesn’t have any external sensors. So we are working on retrofitting some sonar sensors similar to the ones we used for this project to give Elliot a little more independence. So stay tuned to see more coolness coming from Elliot.