I had a great time meeting the team responsible for creating the Anybot Telepresence Robot. The founder of Anybots is Trevor Blackwell who was featured on Hacked Gadgets about 5 years ago for his cool electric unicycle. There was an Anybot mingling with the people in the Las Vegas Anybots suite, it was being controlled by Ian Danforth who was back at the Anybots head office in Mountain View California. It was so natural talking with Ian that I felt that I was actually talking with him rather than a robotic substitute.
The $15,000 robot has now been available for sale for a few days but has been in beta testing for a long time. It serves an obvious need, just imagine having an Anybot at your remote locations that you need to travel too frequently. Instead of spending countless hours flying and expensive lodging expenses you could simply log into an Anybot that has been setup on site and conduct your business. You could visit a dozen branches on Monday morning and still make your 1:00 PM golf tee time.
The Anybot is full of cool technology, there are two cameras, one looking straight ahead and one looking down so the operator can see any obstacles that may be around the base. There is a LIDAR system used to let the robot know what is directly in front of the robot, this prevents you running over the feet of your coworkers. Of course since it is a balancing robot there needs to be a fist full of sensors such as accelerometers to make that magic happen. But unlike a DIY hobby balancing project the design team needed to think of things such as what happens if the batteries fail before the Anybot can make it back to the charging cradle. They developed a small prong that sticks out from under the robot and acts like a small leg to prop it up in the event of system power failure.
Erico Guizzo from IEEE had one on loan for a week and made a video describing how it worked for him. Since the robot relies on WiFi you need to ensure that the WiFi signal is strong and the internet connection needs to be fast to use the Anybot with all of its features enabled. For example Erico was not able to stream a live video of his face onto the Anybot because of poor WiFi, when I met the Anybot there was only a still image on the screen because the hotel internet was not fast enough to support a good quality live video if Ian. I think this problem will soon not be an issue since all of the internet providers falling over themselves trying to surpass each others internet performance.
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