February 9, 2009 As a race we humans probably only have a few years to make good use of robots before they become self aware and take over the world, so we need to get in while we can. One of these good uses is through robotic telepresence, which lets a user move and interact with a remote environment through a robotic proxy that serves as the user's eyes and ears and follows their commands. Judging by the impressive show put on at CES 2009 by the QA telepresence robot from California based company Anybots, life-sized robot surrogates are definitely starting to reach a level of technological feasibility that could make rushing to a plane to reach that important meeting a thing of the past.
Looking like an armless humanoid riding a handlebar free Segway the QA allows a remote user to see and be seen, talk and listen, and collaborate with other people half a world away.
The robot's 802.11g wireless connectivity allows 20 FPS video at 640x480 resolution captured by the QA’s two 5MP color cameras and full duplex, high fidelity sound to be sent back to the user’s Mac or PC running the client software. A 7-inch color LCD screen in the QA’s chest can display the remote user to give long distance interactions that human touch while navigation comes courtesy of QA’s onboard 5.5 yard range LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging), which functions like RADAR but uses light instead of radio waves.
Standing at 5 foot tall the QA can also bend to 2 foot high to interact more easily with people sitting. The robot’s rechargeable Li-ion battery gives 4-6 hours of operation and allows QA to reach speeds of up to 6 MPH on his two 12-inch diameter wheels.
Anybots are also developing other robots that balance dynamically on two legs, walk, jump, and even run. These robots will have the more familiar two arms and legs and one even has one fully articulated hand and will be able to perform a wider range of manual tasks. It might be a few years before these models see a commercial release but for well-heeled workers who really like to work from home the QA is expected to be available later this year at around the USD 30,000 mark.