DIY Telepresence By Teleoperated Robot

Programmer Ivan Bowman telecommutes to work by running his robotic alter-ego IvanAnwhere around the office. This is a catch-up story for me; I'd seen this idea about a quarter-century ago in a Niven and Pournelle novel.


(Ivan Bowman and telerobot IvanAnywhere)

IvanAnywhere is a teleoperated robot that sits in the office at iAnywhere Solutions in Waterloo. Bowman sits in his home 1,350 kilometers away. Bowman had tried using the usual microphone on the table method, but hated it.

"The most irritating thing was the microphone I had," he says.

"I could hear people in the kitchen talking about something, and occasionally I would have something I wanted to add to that, and not being there in person, I couldn't do anything. I had to wait for them to come over to the desk."

Programmer Ian McHardy, who plays with RC vehicles as a hobby, mounted a webcam, screen and speakers on a radio-controlled truck. This was the first IvanAnywhere prototype.

McHardy found a mobile base with wheels and 24-volt motors sold by SuperDroid Robots Inc.

On top, he placed a cardboard box containing enough batteries to power the robot for the workday and the wires and gadgetry needed to convert digital instructions to analog controls.

Infrared proximity sensors are meant to prevent the machine from hitting the walls, although he still crashes into a door frame now and then. A simple aluminum bar almost two metres high sticks up from the base, with the webcam, screen and speakers wrapped on below.

McHardy's only concession to esthetics is a grey foam ball stuck on the robot's top. The charitable way to describe IvanAnywhere is to say he is far more impressive technically than visually. With his exposed wires, masking tape and plastic ties, IvanAnywhere makes the robot from Lost in Space look like Optimus Prime.

This is a good example of what Niven and Pournelle were talking about in their 1981 novel Oath of Fealty. A chief engineer uses robot probes to be several places at once in a huge arcology.

at led to his development of robot probes; small devices with cameras and sound equipment which could move freely through Todos Santos under Rand's direct control. If he sent out two or three of the small tele-operated devices (he called them Arr-twos after the small droid in Star Wars), Rand could effectively be in several places at once...
(Read more about robot probes)

If you want to buy a robot like this one (that's a little bit more professional-looking), get yourself a HeadThere Giraffe Telepresence Robot. Kids will enjoy the PEBBLES Robot, specifically designed for young students unable to attend classes. The ROKVISS Telepresence Robot brings this idea to space, where it's long overdue.

Via The Record.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 10/6/2007)

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