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1/11/2013
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Attack of the Telepresence Robots!

A handful of innovative high-tech startups have emerged to create a new market: remote telepresence robots. These are videoconference devices, most of which roam an office independently under the control of a remote worker. Not only can you videoconference with remote workers, you can be there — in a creepy way — and go where you want. In this story we look at MantaroBot "TeleMe," VGo Communications "VGo," Anybots "QB," Suitable Technologies "Beam" and Revolve Robotics "Kubi."

Telepresence robot smackdown!

Let's examine how the key features and specs of these five telepresence robots compare. While they each have a number of unique features and characteristics, I've summarized the main specs of all these telepresence robots in the table below. As you'll see, there's quite a range in pricing.

Summary of features & specs for five telepresence robots
MantaroBot "TeleMe" VGo Communications "VGo" Anybots "QB" Suitable Tech "Beam" Revolve Robotics "Kubi"
Height 60 in. 48 in. 34 or 74 in. 62 in. 16 in.
Weight 20 lbs 18 or 22 lbs (depends on battery) 35 lbs 95 lbs 3 lbs
Motion type tilt/swivel; locomotion tilt/swivel; locomotion tilt/swivel; locomotion tilt/swivel; locomotion tilt/swivel
Wheels 2 active, 1 passive 2 active, 2 passive 2 2 active, 3 passive n/a
Max speed 2 ft/sec 2.5 ft/sec 5 ft/sec 5 ft/sec n/a
Obstacle sensors yes yes yes none n/a
Battery capacity 6 or 8.5 hrs (battery dependent) 6 or 12 hrs (battery dependent) 6-8 hrs 8 hrs 4 hrs
Display depends on tablet 6-inch diag LCD 3.7-inch diag LCD 17-inch diag LCD depends on tablet
Cameras 1 (via tablet) 1 2 2 wide-angle HD 1 (via tablet)
Microphones 1 (via tablet) 4 3 6 1 (via tablet)
Laser pointer optional no yes no no
Wireless WiFi WiFi; 4G (option) Wifi 2 dual-band 2.5/5GHz radios Bluetooth + WiFi or cellular (depends on tablet)
First shipments Q3 2012 Q4 2011 Q1 2011 Q4 2012 Q2 2013
Base price $1,500
(+ tablet)
$6,000 $9,700 $16,000 $249
(+ tablet)


Telepresence video demonstrations

The videos below breathe a little more life into the concept of telepresence robots.


Suitable Technologies "Beam"

VGo Communications "VGo"

Anybot "QB"

Revolve Robotics "Kubi"

MantaroBot "TeleMe"


The bottom line

Slowly but steadily, mobile telepresence robots are insinuating themselves into our work environments, especially in situations where they provide services that would not otherwise be available. For example, some of their first successes are in hospitals, nursing homes, and home health care.

Whether the ability to meander through a remote location is necessary, or even practical, depends a lot on the facility's layout. Are there doors that must be opened? Stairs to climb? Multiple buildings to move between? And then there's the need to recharge before running out of power and going into a shut-down mode.

cyberman
Cyberman
(click for info)
Cylon Centurion
Cylon Centurion
(click for info)
Bear in mind that what we're seeing here is the emergence of a new industry; and if Moore's Law applies here as it does to so many IT spheres, it won't be long before these gadgets are inexpensive, commonplace, and far more flexible and intelligent.

Let's just hope they don't get too smart, and decide to take over!



Further info


More information about the products discussed above are available from the companies' websites, as listed below:

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