Telepresence Robot Demo Unit Breaks Free Of Its Confinement


What happens when you put a telepresence robot online for the world to try out for free? Hilarity of course. Double Robotics is a company that builds telepresence robots. The particular robot in question is kind of like a miniature Segway with a tablet computer on top. The idea is you can control it with your own tablet from a remote location. This robot drives around with your face on the screen, allowing you to almost be somewhere when you can’t (or don’t want to) be there in person.

Double Robotics decided to make one of these units accessible to the Internet as a public demonstration. Of course, they couldn’t have one of these things just roaming about their facility unrestrained. They ended up keeping it locked in an office. This gives users the ability to drive it around a little bit and get a feel for the robot. Of course it didn’t take long for users to start to wonder how they could break free from their confinement.

One day, a worker left the office door cracked open ever so slightly. A user noticed this and after enough patience and determination, managed to use the robot to get the door opened. It appears as though the office was closed at the time, so no one was around to witness the event. A joy ride ensued and the robot hid its tracks by locking itself back in the room and docking to the charging station.

While this isn’t a hack in the typical sense, this is a perfect example of the hacker mindset. You are given some new technology and explore it to the extent at which you are supposed too. After that, many people would just toss it aside and not give it a second thought. Those with the hacker mindset are different, though. Our next thought is usually, “What else can I do with it?” This video demonstrates that in a fun and humorous way. Hopefully the company learns its lesson and puts a leash on that thing.

[via Reddit]

43 thoughts on “Telepresence Robot Demo Unit Breaks Free Of Its Confinement

  1. … robotslib… I don’t suppose you found any “Edit” buttons lying around in that workshop while you were exploring… we could do with one round here… s/salte/salute/g in my previous post.

    1. I did think it rather strange that this gadget wandering around the office out of hours didn’t seem to have set off the intruder alarm, so it might be a publicity stunt or their PIR detectors are not very good.

      1. Most alarm system PIR detectors are set up to only alarm if the “entity” is over a certain weight and size to avoid pets setting it off, this may have been interpreted by the PIR sensor as falling within that pet range.

      1. One of those temporary tensor strips too…unless of course the bot has a self-righting routine and no protrusions that could stop it from sliding along the bar; thus effectively “doing the limbo” under said bar.

  2. The story reminds me of the time at an industrial fair a friend directed a fair-sized robot arm to press its own emergency stop button. They needed two guys to lift the robot arm off the stop button to get things restarted.

  3. This reminds me on my online bot, it was teathered. One chap spent all night telling it to go in circles and had it darn near suspended from the cable, so I put a limit on the successive turn commands. This was met with the person turning it the maximum times around, wedging it up against a wall, making it think it turned the max number of times the other way, unwedging and turning again; a process that left it once again hanging by a twisted cord.
    Hackers will hack.

    1. Brilliant! (in a slightly naughty way)

      It’s quite funny that people seem eager to try breaking things that aren’t theirs but there’s a serious dearth of engineers who like doing verification/validation/testing roles (where the aim is to find the limits and break things)

    2. I had a similar experience with a robot I built and put online back in 1997. It was just Lego, a couple servos, and a Basic Stamp connected to the serial port on a computer. Also tethered to the ceiling, of course. Before I built a 2-by-4 playfield for it, I would let it roam the lab at night. It was accessible by anyone on the web, and inevitably it would end up hidden behind the refrigerator each morning. After the “neat”ness wears off, human nature is to see what kind of trouble one can get into! After the fence was put up, I started stacking aluminum cans in pyramids to give people something to knock down. Otherwise, people would naturally get bored. I never experienced the cable suspension trick. Guess the chap who found your robot never found mine! :D

    1. I would have rammed the front door :D Escape into the parking lot lol
      I wonder if someone forgot to set the alarm system. If not, we just learned to crawl on the floor to avoid setting off the system :/

  4. Yep I had a similar experience when I had a camera set up on a cheap rotor on top of my tower.
    I put a DTMF decoder on a old radio scanner set to a little used 2m simplex freq and some one
    heard me using tones to move the camera.
    One day I tried to move the camera and it was stuck all the way clockwise and the motor was burned out.
    Some one kept sending the one DTMF tone to move clockwise.

  5. a LEASH !? That’s just restricting the hacker mentality, and the bright sparks will be discouraged!

    The company should encourage rebellious, outside-the-box behaviours like that because you can learn so much more!

  6. The reason why the robot did not trip the PIR motion detectors as they don’t have any. Being on Airport Blvd in San Fran (Burlingame) area, industrial park, and a commercial tenant in a 2/3 vacant office building, who needs a burglar alarm? They are also next to the waterfront with two huge hotels behind them. The landlord did not install ne and they probably don’t need one. If you stop the video frames you see there is no evidence of any systems mounted in the ceiling. No fire alarm or CCTV either. No CCTV outside either.

    I think that the heat from the robot’s motor or even the tablet might be enough for a standard PIR to detect movement. But it might not as some systems are set to avoid pets. These guys depend on the deadbolt in the glass metal frame exterior door. And they are on the ground floor. Good thing the local SF drug addicts don’t even know what a telepresence robot is.

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