Telepresence is “the use of virtual reality technology to operate machinery by remote control or to create the effect of being at a different or imaginary location.” The goal of the “Telepresence Robot” studio was to design and build a robot which a human user can remotely inhabit and control. More specifically, the intention of this studio was to enable a teacher to instruct students from around the world.
The telepresence robot, telebot for short has a wooden frame with translucent plastic sheets bolted on to it. It also has internal LEDs so that it can change color and display the different moods of the operator. Using translucent plastic allows the entire robot to glow without using many LEDs.
In order for an instructor to effectively teach a student, he has to be able to inspect the projects that his students are working on. On the Telepresence Robot, the arm is designed to hold just one thing: a camera that aims downwards. Normally, if there is something on a table, like a drawing or a project, a human would lean over to see it. Since the telepresence robot cannot lean, the arm extends over something, to give the operator of the robot a wider viewing range.The arm also extends and retracts, to see more or less, and can fold into the robot. In all, the arm lets people using the robot see objects or tables that they cannot normally see, helping them be more telepresent.
The telepresence robot also has a head that raises up and down. This enables the operator to become “taller” or “shorter” and interact with people of different heights. The head has a 5 inch screen that displays the operator’s face as well as a camera that allows the operator to see from the front. This camera acts as the "eyes" of the robot. Telebot also has a wide angle camera that allows the operator to avoid obstacles and see a full 360 degree view of the surroundings of the robot. In addition to cameras, the head of the robot is attached to the robotic arm. The arm rises and lowers with the head, allowing the user to see closer or further away from the top of a table.
To communicate with all of the different parts, the robot uses a series of Arduino microcontrollers that are attached to a laptop. The laptop runs a visual programming language called Max MSP and communicates with the computer that the operator uses.
The robot drives using a three wheeled system. The front two wheels are powered and the back wheel is a caster, allowing a full range of motion. The wheels are large enough that the robot can easily drive over wires. In addition, this wheel configuration enables the robot's movement controls to be interactive.
The operator controls the robot using a device called a Leap Motion. This device tracks the operators fingers, and the software translates the motions of the operator’s fingers to commands that the robot runs. These commands move the robot, change the led colors, move the arm, etc.
The operator also controls the robot through the use of facial recognition. This allows the robot to turn different colors when the operator makes different faces. For example, if the operator looks angry, the robot will turn red.
Using this robot allows a person to interact with and act in an environment as though he was there. It is also significantly cheaper than any other telepresence robot on the market. This design has potential and could be turned into a real product.