Help wanted: Young robot experts

I need your help to build a DIY “telepresence” robot– basically Skype on a Roomba.   I call them “skip-the-commute” robots, where mine is going to be more of a “skip-the-meeting” thing.  A tele-absence robot.

But I’ve gotta get on top of  telepresence first:  My robot will have to perform at least as well as– and double up as–a telepresence model; otherwise, colleagues will know for sure that I’m never “there,” operating the thing.

Anybot photo by themightyohm via flickr/creative commons

Various companies produce high-end versions — anybot is probably the best-known.  The highest-end example I’ve found is a company called InTouch Health, which produces “medical telepresence” robots.

(I’m actually going to Loyola University Medical Center tomorrow, to see one in action– doing a visit in the pediatric ward. They also have one working with a neuro-surgeon, but for my purposes, the pediatrician is probably the best test-case:  If a robot can comfort a sick, vulnerable child, then it should do a fine job keeping my colleagues company.)

And the Roomba people– the iRobot Corporation– just unveiled an awesome “next-generation” robot at the Consumer Electronics Show in January:  AVA ups the ante by (a) using a tablet computer for her “head”— the software is an app for iOS and Android–and (b) being able to navigate a room on her own.

I’m going to Texas for SXSW next month, and I’ll be missing some of the classes I teach at Columbia College while I’m away.  … so this seems like a great opportunity to test out telepresence:  Could I teach a class via robot?

I asked AVA for a date, but she’s busy.  Similarly, the InTouch Health robot isn’t anywhere near Chicago that week.

But just last week, a guy in California named Johnny Lee Chung posted instructions for making a DIY version— using a modified roomba kit (called iRobot Create) and a netbook.  Total cost is about 1/20th what the big guys charge for theirs.

It’s super cool.  And it looks pretty easy to do.  But– and this is just between you, me and the Interwebs– I actually know nothing about building things. Or writing code.  Or anything.

Or, as Groucho Marx said, “Why a child could figure this out!  Quick, somebody find me a child. I can’t make head or tail of it.”

I know there are robotics clubs all around the city with incredible robot-building kids.  But I don’t know them!  Do you?  If so, please have them get in touch!  I’m [send my robot] {AT} Gee, male {DOT] com.

Many thanks!!

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