Here (photo: Lene Pettersen) is my last addition to my nerd kit: A Double from Double Robotics. I suppose this is formally defined as a telepresence robot, but a simpler way to describe it is to say that it is an iPad stuck on a Segway.
I spent most of Friday fiddling around with it, exploring what it can do. It is surprisingly natural in use: It can be raised (up to about five feet) and lowered, depending on whether you want to speak to someone standing or sitting. I drove it around the BI building, and quickly found that dead network spots (it needs a constant Internet connection to work) are problematic. Also, it is not very good at switching between routers on the same wireless network – it loses connection and needs a couple of minutes to find it again. I’ll probably have to get an iPad with a 4G connection, if such a thing exists (on the other hand, with a 4G connection I could send it out of the building and down the street.) Another problem was weak sound – in a room with other people speaking, the iPad speaker is too weak. I might have to get some small battery-powered speakers and Velcro them to the kit. elevators, doors and door sills, of course, are tricky.
Here are some pictures from a little excursion around the school library (photo: Martin Uteng, Instagrammed here.). A little tricky to talk to the students (again, not enough volume) and some network issues, but at least I am getting better at driving it:
(Yes, this is actually research. And fun at work.) The use cases for a Double are several – I could advise students and go to meetings without leaving my home office, for instance. I have done that with Skype and other video conferencing tools for ages, but this thing is much less formal and allows you to putter around and talk to people. one of my colleagues has severe allergies and spends the spring as a pollen refugee in his mountain cabin – I am sure he would love to borrow it.
Compared to a picture on a computer or projection screen this little robot is much more intuitive and humanoid – you can see in which direction it is looking, for instance. I have been told that there are a bunch of these at Stanford, and that at first they were meant to be shared – but it turns out that people want their own, so they can personalize it as I have done with the ugliest bow tie I could find. My colleagues tell me it feels much more natural to speak to me through the Double than through Skype – it is almost as if I am there.
So, some technicalities left to resolve, but this has promise. I am already scheduled to give a talk through it, while I am in the States. And yes, I have already been compared to Sheldon Cooper of The Big Bang Theory. Several times…