Telepresence robots are definitely a neat idea – they allow users not only to interact with people in remote locations, but they also (in some cases) let those users wander around those locations from “within” the robot, its camera and microphone acting as their eyes and ears. While such robots have so far been relatively expensive, California-based inventor Claire Delaunay wants to change that. She hopes to sell her tiny Botiful telepresence robot for just US$299.
Botiful works with Android smartphones. It holds them with a magnet in a receptacle on its back, and communicates with them using Bluetooth or a cable. It has three wheels on the bottom, allowing the person speaking through it to move it forward, backward, left or right. They can also tilt the phone up or down, so they’re not just stuck looking straight ahead.
Although the robot can be used as a stand-alone device, it is designed to be used with Skype. When people place a Skype video call to a Botiful-owner, they will see a set of directional controls appear on their screen. These will allow them to control the robot in order to follow the speaker, or – should the ‘bot be sitting on a table surrounded by people, for instance – to wander around and visit with everyone.
A variety of apps will be available for callers to use, including a face recognition application that (presumably) automatically moves the robot to keep the speaker’s face centered in the shot. So far, callers must be using an Apple, PC or Linux-based computer. A system that will allow people to place calls using their Android phone is in the works.
For their part, the person receiving the call just places their Android phone in the robot’s receptacle after answering. The robot charges via a USB cable.
Delaunay is presently raising production funds for Botiful, on Kickstarter. Although her projected retail price is $299 (or more), a pledge of $199 will get you one, when and if they’re ready to go.
A similar telepresence product, Oculus, is based around a user-supplied netbook instead of a smartphone.
Claire’s prototypes can be seen in action, in her pitch video below.