I'm getting used to the idea of test-driving machines I've never touched, or seen, in person. That's what telepresence robots are all about.
After scooting around in an Anybots' QB robot in July, I recently logged on to a Texai robot (formerly, Texas) over at Willow Garage.
The Silicon Valley firms have been developing wheeled, interactive droids in the belief that people will want to communicate with remote colleagues and friends in a way that some believe is richer than a phone, teleconference, or Web chat. Consumers will likely choose a robot based on design and usability, and the Texai does well on both counts.
The Texai is a Skype- and Web browser-operated remote robot (Willow Garage calls it a "remote presence system") whose main feature is a large color LCD screen showing the pilot. Mostly built from off-the-shelf components, it has two laser range finders, a wide-angle navigation camera, a pan-tilt camera, microphone, and speakers.
Once I was logged on, piloting the Texai through the Willow Garage office was pretty much a snap. With the Skype video call window showing the front and low-angle camera views, I moved around by clicking on and dragging a red ball in a Texai navigation window in my browser. I liked the fact that everyone could clearly see who I am on the screen, and I could easily see the faces of other Texai pilots through my Skype window.
The Texai lacks some features of the Anybots QB robot, such as the laser pointer, doorway navigation assist, and remote room lighting controls. But it's very intuitive to navigate once you get used to the setup--I poked my LCD head into a Willow Garage meeting, rolled into the company lounge and ran into another Texai user in the hallway, like robots passing in the night. … Read more