Double Robotics’ new Double 2 telepresence robot gets a better camera and navigation abilities.
You may not have heard of telepresence robots, but a startup called Double Robotics hopes to fix that with the release of its second-generation product geared for a wider audience.
Telepresence robots represent you from afar, allowing you to roam corridors with co-workers, glide into offices for private chats and continue a conversation in the company cafeteria. The 35-person Burlingame, California-based startup wasn’t the first to the technology, but it did pioneer a less-expensive approach by mounting an Apple iPad tablet atop a stalk with motorized wheels.
A user at a computer pilots the robot around a distant location by typing keyboard controls. They can see what’s in front of the robot by way of images transmitted from the tablet’s camera back to their computer screen. At the same time, their computer’s camera transmits live images of their face to the robot’s tablet so people looking at the tablet can see and talk to them.
On Wednesday at the CES confab in Las Vegas, Double Robotics launched its second-generation product, the Double 2, with features the company says will encourage companies to expand beyond limited tests.
“We’ve sold over 5,000 units now. We expect to have quite a spike with this release,” Chief Executive David Cann said.
The boundaries between work and home have been blurring for years with telephones, pagers and e-mail enabling bosses to reach subordinates at all hours and for employees to work from home and hotels. Smartphones accelerated the trend with a constant network connection. Now telepresence robots could make remote working even more like the real thing by giving you a virtual body and face.
The Double 2’s lateral stability control feature is designed to let it surmount cords and carpet edges better than its predecessor.
Compared with its predecessor, the Double 2 can better navigate bumps like cords and rug edges without tipping sideways. It also drives fast enough to keep up with people walking at full speed and gets a wider-angle camera option so the pilot can see groups of six people, not just two, Cann said. “We think bringing these new features out will make people feel more confident to rolling this out to more novice employees and make it a standard part of telecommuting policy,” he said.
The first-generation product cost $2,500, but accessories raised the price to $3,500. The Double 2 is $3,000 including the accessories.
Eventually, telepresence robots could be used for entertainment and recreation, not just business and education. But a more immersive experience would be nice for those new uses. That’s why Double Robotics is eyeing virtual reality technology that would let the operator of a telepresence robot see a 3D world with better sound.
“We’re totally excited about the VR revolution,” Cann said. One hitch, though: people on the other side of the connection want to see your full face, not bulky virtual reality goggles.
“If there’s a big black thing on your face, there’s not much point to having your face on a screen,” Cann said.