Low-cost Video Chat Robot


[Johnny Chung Lee], having recently moved from Seattle to Mountain View, wanted a way to keep in touch with his fiancé who would not be relocating for several more months. While most of us would likely consider purchasing a pair of web cams to keep in touch, he decided to do things his own way.  Using an iRobot Create and a netbook, both about $250 apiece, he constructed a remote-controlled video chat robot that he can steer around his former abode from 1,000 miles away. While $500 might seem expensive at first, [Johnny] reminds us that commercial versions likely run into the thousands of dollars.

The whole setup is controlled using custom software to manage the movement of the robot, which can be used in conjunction with freely available videoconferencing applications, such as Skype. He also modified the iRobot’s charging station to charge both the robot and the netbook simultaneously – a process he explains, but precedes with several disclaimers.  Like some of his previous projects we have covered, he has made the C# source used in this project available for download on his site, along with documentation for both the control software and dock modifications.

Check out video of the robot in action after the jump.


32 thoughts on “Low-cost Video Chat Robot

  1. “The software was written in C# with Visual Studio Express 2010”

    A great project suddenly filled with so much FAIL.

    Let’s take the great hardware idea and give it a decent OS like linux and not the crippleware that is Windows 7

  2. low-cost especially for hacker usually mean something assembled out of trash bin, this one is just a commercial product doing what it was intended to do no attempt was made to substitute it with low-cost hoe made one, in real world it hardly can be view as a hack

  3. Nice hack.

    But I can’t help but want to say that the center of gravity is too high and the chat robot is bound to fall, damaging the netbook. In fact, I think if the netbook screen is bending a farther back, the robot may fall by itself.

  4. Another alternative is simply put a phone on top with a front facing camera (e.g. facetime). Charging the phone become less of an issue. The problem is interfacing the wheels. I’m sure he could think of something to integrate Wi-Fi and USB, if one is not already available.

    Also, don’t forget the WowWee Rovio.


    It used to be available for less than $100.

    There you go, Chat robot for less than $200 with the phone you already own… :)

  5. @therian

    Time is at a premium for some of us, so sometimes spending $250 on some hardware is more appealing than spending a couple weeks developing your own.

    This guy wanted a robot with a camera he could drive over the internet, and now he has one.

  6. I’ve completely gutted a create before and used it’s insides for a robot (See http://www.billporter.info/senior-design-robot-video/ )

    And I have a second that’s a test bed for stuff when it’s not collecting dust.

    It’s a great product, a very stable platform. Even weight that high up it’ won’t have a problem with. There’s been several example projects built on creates that have a high center of mass like that.

    This is definitely a cool project whether you think it’s a hack or not.

  7. @DeadlyFoez
    LOL I was thinking of the same thing!

    “…wanted a way to keep in touch with his fiancé who would not be relocating for several more months. While most of us would likely consider purchasing a pair of web cams…”

    How did I know that this would be a roaming web cam? I also LOL at the fact that he doesn’t trust his woman and needs to make sure she can’t hide around the computer and sneak men over for some secret loven’.

  8. I started rolling on the floor just a the first few seconds of that video.

    fiance wakes up. robot there to great her.
    “Hello honey! Good morning.”
    fiance walks in the bathroom to brush teeth.
    robot rolls in.
    “Hello honey!”
    fiance gets dressed.
    “Hello honey!”
    fiance makes breakfast and starts to eat till the robot rolls in.
    “Hello honey! That looks like a good breakfast!”
    fiance gets in the car for work and puts it in reverse. She looks back to drive out of the driveway. There she finds the robot right in her face from the back seat.
    “Hello honey!”

  9. He’d best be makin money hand over fist.
    The young lady has my abject sympathy.

    He needs to build another one so She can pester him.
    Love by telepresence: The Arrogance is staggering.

  10. Boy, I sure hope all of you negative commenters are as perfect and odor free as you proclaim to be. The guy posts a project that he obviously worked hard on and all you do is tear it down. What have all of you accomplished? This is why people do not get anywhere. They are to busy tearing every body down. If you post a project, let us hope it has 0 flaws so you can continue with your negativity. Good project. I would love to be able to do what He does and would like to learn.

  11. Here’s a much simpler solutiuon that involves actual construction instead of just setting a laptop on a pre-build robot:

    I used an old R/C car coupled with an Aerocomm RS232 transciever set that I got on eBay for about 30 bucks. I used a little PIC to take the serial data on the ‘bot side to control the car.
    I got one of those ~$60 wireless webcams, and mounted to to the car. I used a DC motor with a little rotating platform from an old tape drive to rotate the camera back and forth about 200 degrees.
    The whole thing was controlled from a web page on my computer, and the webcam video streamed on the same page.
    I must have had under $150 into the whole thing, and it was a lot of fun. Girlfriend didn’t like it because it was “creepy” so its gone now, ha ha.

    The negative commenters should realize that he probably isn’t capable of constructing the individual systems himself. Also, this plug-and-play project allows both parties to see each other. Mine didn’t do that.

  12. Very interesting. Thank you. I’ve been wanting to play with programming after not doing so for ages and this might be a good way to do it.

    I haven’t seen any of your other videos, but you have a very good presence. Articulate and clear. Keep it up.

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