Editorial Feature

Telepresence Service Robots

Telepresence can be used in a number of environments such as manufacturing facilities and large enterprises where a robot can help remotely located engineers and other team members to connect to the team through live video and audio reducing travel time and costs.

In office environments, telepresence robots enable managerial workers to be in two places at the same time through instant communications and help them observe their teams and processes without their physical presence. Telepresence robots are believed to help improve safety, security and inspections within a workplace.

In healthcare, situations wherein there is a long distance between the patient and doctor or when there is no need for direct caregiver-patient interactions, telepresence robots can be used.

Real-time audio and video capabilities will enable doctors to perform virtual consultations. Individuals taking care of the elderly need not worry about being present round-the-clock. Telepresence robots can be used for students who cannot go to school. Students will be able to communicate with the teacher and speak in real-time with students.

Another way of defining telepresence robots would be video conferencing on wheels. There are a number of companies such as HeadThere, Anybots, iRobot, InTouch Health, RoboDynamics, VGo Communications and Willow Garage producing these robots.

What the Product is Made of

Telepresence robots include display, microphones, cameras, a laser pointer, and wireless internet connection.

  • Video information is very important in telepresence robots for navigation and conversation. Since these robots are mobile, information needs to be transferred wirelessly. At times, high video resolution is required. Drivers may have to read maps on the walls or probably office numbers. It may not be possible to have very high resolution for reading all the signs; however at least signs less than a few feet away must be readable. The constraint here is not the feasibility of high resolution cameras but the bandwidth to transmit the video data.
  • Audio quality: Another important component of communication through a telepresence robot is audio quality. It must be possible to compare the audio quality with that of a landline phone conversation.
  • The most important component of communicating through a telepresence robot is the conversation itself. It is also essential that there is a system for volume control for the person operating the robot and the person accompanying the robot.
  • The user interface (UI) is another very critical component of the telepresence system. It is the portal of the driver to the remote world hence it is essential that the UI is simple, does not distract and offers the needed functionality without making the driver feel uncomfortable.
  • It is important that relevant and precise data is provided to the robot driver. However, it is important that the amount of data does not overwhelm the driver and becomes counterproductive.
  • It is important that the driver is able to change the height of the robot to the desired height from a remote location. The idea is that the robot must be able to switch between at least two preset heights, so that the driver can be at eye-level for standing and sitting conversations.
  • It is required that the robots must have at least two cameras. One of them must be forward facing that can be used for conversations while driving to see the path ahead. The conversation camera must be at a sufficient height to show the person’s face physically to the robot. The second camera showing the robot base can be used as the reference point for navigation.

How it Works

The telepresence robot normally has a display panel showing the surrounding environment. The driver controls the robot remotely using a user interface. The driver is able to see where the robot is and what it is doing. The driver can communicate to the people in the remote environment through the robot. This is very similar to video conferencing except that the robot is not confined to the conference room. It can move around and talk with people.

Products on the Market - Advancements

It would truly be a great thing for one of these robotic avatars to be wandering around the facility and interacting with it. A lot of companies are offering telepresence robots and some of the latest ones are discussed here:

The QB by Anybots

QB by Anybots can take you to the destination requested. The robust, patented, dynamically balancing platform enables wide-ranging mobility.

The features of the QB are:

  • The QB has a height from 2’8” to 6’2” and can interact at head height
  • The QB is small and occupies as much space as a person would
  • The weight of QB is just 32 lbs
  • QB has wheels that can help it to drive over bumps up to 2”
  • QB is capable of ascending and descending ADA compliant ramps
  • It can steer through doorways and round obstacles.

The EMOX from Awabot

The EMOX from Awabot comes with a graphic programming interface that helps easy and quick programming and helps in analyzing the environment in real-time.

A Gostai studio interface helps give life to the EMOX without any coding knowledge. The robot is equipped with connection ports which enable to:

  • Personalize it to enhance its possibilities of interaction with the environment,
  • Determine the electronics values of the key components.

EMOX - augmented robot. Video courtesy of TheINNOROBO

Beam Remote Presence Device (RPD) from Suitable Technologies

The Beam RPD from Suitable Technologies enables you to be physically present anywhere in the world.

The key features of the beam are the following:

  • This robot has a 17-inch screen, so that your face is human size.
  • The frame is 1.58m (5' 2") so that it is the size of a human.
  • Has a high speed of 1.5 m/s (3 mph).
  • Equipped with two wide-angle HD cameras for complete visual awareness.
  • Has a six-microphone array with echo cancellation and noise reduction for complete audio perception.
  • Two dual-band radios with proprietary roaming algorithms, for seamless WiFi connectivity.
  • Industry-standard encryption.

Sources and Further Reading

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