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New Telepresence Robot from Anybots

January 14, 2009 | Chris Payatagool
anybots.jpgThe 2009 International CES started today. Unfortunately I am not there this year, but I did get to see and try out a cool new robot that is being announced there. That is, the new telepresence robot named QA developed by Anybots. I had the chance to visit the company located in Silicon Valley right before QA and the team left for Las Vegas.

 Unlike previously announced telepresence robots from other companies - such as Rovio or ConnectR - QA is designed to look like a human albeit on wheels.It stands 5 feet tall and a 5-megapixel camera is situated on the neck. The great advantage of this is that it is much easier for the person who is controlling the robot via a PC thousands of miles away from the robot, to communicate with the people that are in the same room as the robot. (It's difficult when your eye-level is like 5 inches from the floor when using other telepresence robots.) QA is connected to the world using corporate Wi-Fi or public 3G networks. It has a screen in the front which can show a photo of the operator or whatever the operator wants to show the people on the other side.


 Trevor Blackwell, founder and CEO of Anybots, calls this "video conferencing on wheels."  An ideal user would be "a mechanical engineer in the U.S. who wants to communicate with a factory in China without flying there." The green light you see in the photo above next to the camera is a laser pointer. It is supposed to correspond directly to where you click on the PC screen and the system stabilizes the laser spot when the robot moves. So the mechanical engineer can use the laser system to point out things/places that need attention.

 QA is scheduled to be available for purchase in Q3, 2009. Price will be in the $15,000 to $25,000 range. Anybots would like to ship a dozen units for beta testing this summer.

 I did get to control QA and the interface was pretty intuitive. "We wanted to be able to drive it around like you would control an avatar in Second Life," Trevor says. Right now you need to get used to how close you can move QA to other humans without running over them, but according to Trevor, they are working on an obstacle avoidance system which they will probably not be able to demonstrate yet at CES. (By the way, QA did run over my foot once but I was OK. QA weighs only 35 pounds.)

 I will post some videos I took on my next post. Photographed below is the Anybots team with QA. From right, Daniel Casner, Trevor Blackwell, Scott Wiley and Benjie Nelson.

anybot2.jpg    Another photo of QA provided by Anybots. They call it the "MySpace angle."

Oh, and in case you are wondering, what's the Japan angle here (since this is supposed to be a blog about robots in Japan right)?  Well, QA has a Hokuyo (Japanese company) laser range finder on the base for navigation, which seems to be becoming increasingly popular among mobile robots. And I think QA would be very useful in Japanese nursing homes where the small number of staff are constantly being beeped by the elderly people. If QA can run over to their rooms to chat with them and allow the nurses to focus on the real emergencies, I think it would be a great help.  So, yeah, I write about Japanese robots but since I currently live in Silicon Valley I am fortunate to have the chance to see and write about the robots here as well.

[via GetRobo]   

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