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Oculus telepresence robot incorporates user's existing netbook


December 19, 2011

Oculus is an inexpensive telepresence robot that incorporates a user-supplied netbook computer

Oculus is an inexpensive telepresence robot that incorporates a user-supplied netbook computer

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When you think about it, telepresence robots are quite a neat idea. Not only do they allow you to see and converse with people in another location through video conferencing, but you can also move them about within that location - almost as if you were there in person, walking down the halls. Such devices typically don't come cheap, however. As with other robots, part of what you're paying for are their computerized "brains," along with all of their input/output peripherals. The Oculus Telepresence Robot, however, takes a different approach. It utilizes a user-supplied netbook to serve as its brains, eyes, ears and vocal cords. This results in a lower price, potentially opening up telepresence technology to people who otherwise wouldn't be able to afford it.

The Oculus itself is a motorized wheeled platform, with an adjustable ABS frame that can accommodate most netbooks or laptops with a screen size of no more than ten inches (although reportedly some 11-inchers will work, too). The computer's webcam needs to be centered above the screen, in order to line up with the platform's powered tilting periscope - this allows the operator to be able to look up, instead of just straight ahead or to either side.

While the netbook must be running Windows, the robot can be remotely controlled over the internet using any iOS or Android mobile device, or a PC, running the open source control software. Oculus' movements can be dictated using touchscreen controls, or a tilt-to-steer function. An onboard Arduino micro-controller relays commands from the netbook to the platform.

Using a typical laptop battery, approximately one to two hours of continuous driving and streaming should be possible. When it's time to recharge, the robot is able to automatically dock with its charging unit. It does so by targeting a graphic displayed on that charger, using the netbook's webcam.

Should users wish to press their Oculus into service as a night watchman, an optional dual-LED headlight is available. There's no word on whether or not it could also be equipped with a pepper spray gun, or a little mechanical arm that holds a baton.

Oculus was created by Canadian industrial designer Colin Adamson, who is currently in the process of raising funds to produce the product on a commercial scale. A pledge of US$225 will reserve one for you, which is $45 less than its planned retail price of $270.

The video below shows how the robot moves.

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth

I just put two lasers on mine, and tracking with Robot Realm\'s software.

Brad Zdanivsky

Neat - though if you\'ve got a small amount of skill, you can buy a $19 \"Micro Maestro\" and do this yourself. I built one last week, and uplaoded my code for controlling it via iOS (eg: iPhone, iPod, or iPad) and/or a wireless xBox controller to the pololu forums. Should work fine in Windows, Linux, and Mac too.


laser testing here: http://twitpic.com/7vmy0e

Brad Zdanivsky

It\'s not a bad idea, I think it should use a tablet instead of a netbook. Also instead of a periscope it should just be a mast that raises the tablet up and down. Even better, use a pan/tilt base at the top of the mast. That gives the telepresence robot a neck. Then you could peer at the wheels and make sure they aren\'t running into anything. For a weighty base that is topple resistant, you could use a motorcycle gel cell battery. I did this for a sumo robot competition in the past, gives the robot lots of ballast plus energy for run time (also, a gel cell is not liable to leak acid). $270 is not much of a saving over the Wowwee Rovio which was down to about $300 before they discontinued it. As a proof of concept: EXCELLENT WORK!

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