Remote Controlled Over WiFi Interactive Robot

I will admit up front that this is not necessarily low-cost, but is super high-tech and super cool. I was recently invited to attend the grand opening of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock's (UALR) Emerging Analytics Center (EAC).  I helped provide some of the 3D models for their visualization "cave" demonstration. During the tour they showed us some other technologies, including a Double Robotics robot. It is an iPad enabled unit that works as an interactive mobile robot that is controlled remotely over WiFi from anywhere in the universe with an internet connection. If you are into The Big Bang Theory it is known as a MVPD (Mobile Virtual Presence Device). Mechanically, the Double consists of a self-balancing Segway-style robotic base with an iPad mount. It even has height adjustment to put the remote user at eye level for sit-down meetings or stand-up conversations. ULAR plans to use their's for campus tours as well as a tool to allow offsite partners to interact with other team members or even inspect hardware remotely. It allows users to login from anywhere and use the robot as a surrogate body while displaying a live video feed of them, allowing independent mobility and/or the ability to interact with local participants. Although UALR intends to use it as a Tour Bot, I would think that tours could be facilitated with a static Google Street View type of interactive map at a significantly lower cost point. Although it may not have the same coolness factor of the Double, a Street View type tour also wouldn't be dependent on the weather. But the real benefit of the Double comes from it's ability to allow remote users to launch independently, and to interact (even on an impromptu basis if desired) with the local population.

Photo Credit: Double Robotics

I have seen other devices similar to this in the past, but most of them were limited to a remote user controlling the unit over WiFi and viewing a video feed, but lacked a two way video/audio feed to allow them to interact with local people. In the spirit of the low-cost theme these other ones are cheaper, but are also Do-It-Yourself, so require a significant amount of technical know-how, or a lot of time to learn through trial and error. The DIY machines do seem a little more robust, but don't include that remote-person-to-local-person interactivity, and the Double is a refined turn-key solution, although quite pricey.

See the Shelato Security Robot Turtle here:

See an R/C Car WiFi Spy Bot here:

There are a number of video chat clients available, but they all run on stationary devices and rely on a local host to transport the device (and them) around. As a satellite employee of a much larger offsite group, I frequently host live mobile video feeds for offsite users at my facility, but it would be nice to let the offsite users host themselves, and allow me to get back to my work. At home, I once strapped a PC running Skype with my mom online from Florida to my son's Powerwheel Jeep at our house in Illinois, so that she could ride around the basement with him and his brothers.

We have also used our iPhones, iPads, and laptops to enable the grandparents to play remote-hide-and-seek with the kids from out-of-state. Again, that requires a local host (me) without a robotic surrogate body. Maybe someday we can get my mom to babysit the kids in Arkansas from Florida or even outsource babysitting to a low cost provider overseas. (UPDATE: My wife said, "Maybe not!" OH well, they probably won't need a babysitter by the time the tech is ready anyways.)

At $2500 each (iPad not included), the Double might seem like a costly gadget. However, if companies, schools, or families can avoid travel costs to locations that currently have frequent visits, or could increase productivity and/or quality of life significantly (by improving interactions with sites not currently getting enough attention) by using one of these units, or could increase revenue just by having something cool to demonstrate to customers, there may be a business case. Perhaps companies could also consider keeping one that ships to and returns from various locations as needed instead of sending people. Either way, it would enable employees to spend more time at work instead of in a car or on a plane, while at the same time improving communication and collaboration. One of the main selling points that Double focuses on is the ability to interact with team members on an impromptu basis, before and after scheduled meetings, seeing someone in the hallway or at the water cooler, approaching someone at their desk, etc.

Now for the questions. I have a number of technical questions regarding the Double unit.

  • Does the unit have a docking station that the unit can be docked to by the remote unit that will keep the unit charged? Or does it need to be plugged in manually? 
  • Is there a power meter to allow the remote user to know when to start returning to the dock/home/charger? 
  • What happens when the iPad looses its WiFi signal (is there a go back 10ft upon signal loss command?) 
  • How does the unit get around a multi-level building (does it have an elevator button pushing attachment?) 
  • How does it get through closed doors (wait or go find someone to open it?) 
  • Will updates be offered? 
  • What protocol does it run through (will it work through a company firewall?) 
  • Is there a more robust offroad or industrial version, or is one planned? 
  • How well does the unit deal with debris and minor obstacles? 
  • How robust is it to weather? 

I have submitted these questions to Double Robotics and will post an update as soon as I have a reply.

For more information, see their site at

Let me know what you think. Leave a reply below. 

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