Telepresence Robot Navigates Upgrades

As time marches on and a good percentage of us are still isolating from society at large, the progress of technology isn’t kept as stagnant. Earlier this year we featured a project about a much-needed small telepresence robot with an exceptionally low barrier for entry, and with the progress of time it has received several upgrades and some crowdfunding, all while preserving its original intent of a simple and easily-operated way of keeping in contact with others.

The new robot is still based on the cardboard design that holds a smartphone and drives it around using a microcontroller platform, but thanks to its small size and low power requirement this seems to suit it nicely. Improvements over the original design include a more robust one-size-fits-all phone mount and a more refined cardboard body. Also, since the small size is a little bit of a downside when navigating anywhere that isn’t a desk or counter, the new version makes it easier to make modifications such as adding a pedestal which can elevate the phone and improve the experience of the remote driver. A number of other optional modifications are possible as well, including a grabbing arm.

While telepresence robots unfortunately are needed now more than ever, we are happy to see people like [Ross] take on projects like this which will hopefully help improve our shared situation by allowing us to have a more involved level of contact with people we would otherwise prefer to see in person. If you’d like to build your own without waiting on the crowdfunding, be sure to check out the original project we featured back in April.

Get Back Out There, Robotically

When interacting with reality at a distance is the best course of action, we turn to robots. Whether that’s exploring the surface of Venus, the depths of the ocean, or (for the time being) society at large, it’s often better to put a robot out there than an actual human being. We can’t all send robots to other planets, but we can easily get them in various other places with telepresence robots.

This tiny telepresence robot comes to us from [Ross] at [Crafty Robot] who is using their small Smartibot platform as a basis for this tiny robot. The smartibot drives an easily-created cardboard platform, complete with wheels, and trucks around a smartphone of some sort which handles the video and network capabilities. The robot can be viewed and controlled from any other computer using a suite of web applications that can be found on the project page.

The Smartibot platform is an inexpensive platform that we’ve seen do other things like drive an airship, and the creators are hoping that as many people as possible can get some use out of this quick-and-easy telepresence robot if they really need something like this right now. The kit seems like it would be useful for a lot of other fun projects as well.

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Hackaday Links: October 6, 2019

“If you or someone you love has been exposed to questionable quality electrolytic capacitors, you could be entitled to financial compensation.” Perhaps that’s not exactly the pitch behind this class action lawsuit against capacitor manufacturers, but it might as well be. The suit claims that the defendants, a group of capacitor manufacturers that includes Nichicon, Matsuo, ELNA, and Panasonic, “engaged in an unlawful conspiracy to fix, raise, maintain, or stabilize the prices of Capacitors.” Translation: if you bought capacitors between 2002 and 2014 from a distributor, you paid too much for them. The suit aims to recover a bunch of money from the defendants and divide it up between all the class members, so make sure you go back through all your receipts from Mouser and DigiKey over the last 17 years so you can file a claim that could be worth several dozen cents.

When are people going to learn that posting pictures of their illegal activities online is an Official Bad Idea? One SpaceX fan earned a night in jail after posting selfies he took with Starhopper, the SpaceX test article currently residing at Elon Musk’s would-be spaceport at Boca Chica, Texas. JB Wagoner, a SpaceX super-fan, made the pilgrimage from California to Texas — in his Tesla of course — to see the recent Starship Mark 1 unveiling, and decided to take a side trip to see the Starhopper. He parked at a beach, climbed a dune, and was able to walk right up to Starhopper and go selfie-crazy. After posting the pictures on Facebook, he was arrested, interviewed by Homeland Security, charged with criminal trespass, and thrown in a cell overnight. Wagoner has since been bonded out, but the charges might not stick, since Texas trespassing law requires clear signage or verbal notification of trespass, neither of which Wagoner encountered. SpaceX had even let the fence between the beach and the Starhopper collapse, so Wagoner seems to have had no way of knowing he was trespassing. Still, posting the pictures online was probably asking for trouble.

As satire and dark comedy, the 1987 cyberpunk classic RoboCop can’t be beat. But it also managed to accurately foreshadow a lot of what was to come in the world in terms of technology. No, we don’t have cyborg law enforcement — yet — but we do have something predicted by one throwaway scene: robotic realtors. In the movie, kiosks were set up around Murphy’s old house to extol the various virtues of living there, which ended up triggering the cyborg and starting the film’s climactic rampage. The real-life robotic realtor is a little more flexible, more like a telepresence robot — described aptly as “a Segway with an iPad on top.” The robotic realtor is not autonomous; it only lets a remote realtor interact with potential homebuyers without having to travel to multiple homes. It seems a little gimmicky to us, but the robots are reported to have made 25 sales in their first year on the job.

We’ve been seeing a lot of cheap resin printers these days, enough to make us want to jump into the market and start playing with them. But the cheap ones are all cheap for the same reason — they’re so dang small! They all use LCD screens from phones to mask off the UV light used to cure the resin, and the resulting print volume is tiny. Clem Mayer from MayerMakes has bigger ideas, though: he wants to make a giant resin printer using an LCD monitor as the mask. It’s not as simple as using a bigger screen, though; the film used between the screen and the resin, a fluoropolymer film called FEP, gets deformed when used on larger screens. So Clem is looking at a new built-plate interface that floats the resin on a layer of denser, immiscible liquid. It’s an interesting idea that is still clearly in the proof-of-concept phase, but we look forward to seeing what progress Clem makes.

Double 3: Your Instant Physical Presence Anywhere, No Matter Where You Are

Telepresence is one of those futuristic buzzwords that’s popped up a few times over the decades; promising the ability to attend a meeting in New York City and another in Tokyo an hour later, all without having to leave the comfort of your home or office. This is the premise of Double Robotics’ Double 3, its most recent entry in this market segment, as the commercial counterpoint to more DIY offerings.

More than just a glorified tablet screen.

Looking like a tablet perched on top of a Segway, the built-in dual 13 megapixel cameras allow the controller to get a good look at their surroundings, while the 6 beamforming microphones should theoretically allow one to pick up any conversation in a meeting or on the work floor.

Battery life is limited to 4 hours, and it takes 2 hours to recharge the built-in battery. Fortunately one can just hop over to another, freshly charged Double 3 if the battery runs out. Assuming the $3,999 price tag doesn’t get in the way of building up a fleet of them, anyway.

Probably the most interesting aspect of the product is its self-driving feature, which has resulted in a whole range of sensors and cameras (Intel RealSense D430 stereo vision depth sensors) being installed. To handle the processing of this sensor data, the system is equipped with an NVidia Jetson TX2 ARM board, running Ubuntu Linux, which also renders the mixed-reality UI for the user with way points and other information.

Currently Double Robotics accepts sign-ups for the private beta of the Double 3 API, which would give developers access to the sensor data and various autonomous features of Double 3’s hardware. Co-founder of Double Robotics, [Marc DeVidts] stated to Hackaday that he is looking forward to seeing what people can build with it. Hopefully this time people will not simply take the thing for a joyride, like what happened with a predecessor of the Double 3.

Robots Invade Your Personal Space

If you have ever had to complete a task such as building a LEGO model over a remote connection, you will know that the challenges are like an absurd grade school group project. The person giving directions often has trouble describing what they are thinking, and the person doing the work has trouble interpreting what the instructor wants. “Turn the blue block over. No, only half way. Go back. Now turn it. No, the other way. NO! Not clockwise, downward. That’s Upward! Geez. Are you even listening‽” Good times.

While you may not be in this situation every day, the Keio University of Japan has an intuitive way to give instructors a way to physically interact with an instructee through a Moore/Swayze experience. The instructor has a camera in typical pirate parrot placement over the shoulder. Two arms are controlled by the instructor who can see through stereoscopic cameras to have a first-person view from across the globe. This natural way to interact with the user’s environment allows muscle memory to pass from the instructor to the wearer.

For some of the other styles of telepresence, see this deep-sea bot and a cylindrical screen that looks like someone is beaming up directly from the holodeck.

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A Telepresence System That’s Starting To Feel Like A Holodeck

[Dr. Roel Vertegaal] has led a team of collaborators from [Queen’s University] to build TeleHuman 2 — a telepresence setup that aims to project your actual-size likeness in 3D.

Developed primarily for business videoconferencing, the setup requires a bit of space on both ends of the call. A ring of stereoscopic z-cameras capture the subject from all angles which the corresponding projector on the other end displays. Those projectors are arranged in similar halo above a human-sized, retro-reflective cylindrical screen which can be walked around — viewing the image from any angle without a VR headset or glasses — in real-time!

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Hackaday Prize Entry: Telepresence With The Black Mirror Project

The future is VR, or at least that’s what it was two years ago. Until then, there’s still plenty of time to experiment with virtual worlds, the Metaverse, and other high-concept sci-fi tropes from the 80s and 90s. Interactive telepresence is what the Black Mirror Project is all about. Their plan is to create interactive software based on JanusVR platform for creating immersive VR experiences.

The Black Mirror project makes use of the glTF runtime 3D asset delivery to create an environment ranging from simple telepresence to the mind-bending realities the team unabashedly compares to [Neal Stephenson]’s Metaverse.

For their hardware implementation, the team is looking at UDOO X86 single-board computers, with SSDs for data storage as well as a bevy of sensors — gesture, light, accelerometer, magnetometer — supplying the computer with data. There’s an Intel RealSense camera in the build, and the display is unlike any other VR setup we’ve seen before. It’s a tensor display with multiple projection planes and variable backlighting that has a greater depth of field and wider field of view than almost any other display.