We heard about Double Robotics and their plan to make an iPad-topped robot last year, but the real thing is running around the floor of Macworld/iWorld 2013 this week, and I think it's the coolest thing I've seen at the show. Company founder David Cann told me that Double was originally working on a toy accessory for iOS, when he and his co-founder discovered that they'd have to do a lot of traveling to Asia to set up manufacturing and production lines. They had the idea then of making a telepresence robot with an iOS device, and from that idea, the Double was eventually born.
The thing is quite impressive -- it's basically an iPad mounted on top of a long pole, which is then attached to a two-wheel base, so it all looks and works similar to a Segway. The iPad itself is only used for communication (it's controlled with another iPad remotely, with both movement controls, height adjustment controls and video passed back and forth across the Internet), so the box at the bottom is a real robot, running movement and keeping the whole setup stable.
I got to drive the unit around for a bit, and it reminded me of a first-person shooter game -- there are two sticks, one for movement and one for rotation. The whole setup seems very strange at first, but I definitely get how it could be used, as the video is very clear from the cameras, and the unit itself is very easy to control and move around. Cann told me that the company has about 900 pre-orders for the device so far, and the team has heard of possible applications in security, schools, factories and even real estate: House sellers could use the device to give a remote tour, or potential home buyers could visit property from a distance, or at a specific time of the day when they couldn't be there in person.
The battery in the robot unit will last about eight hours or so, depending on exactly how much driving you're doing, according to Cann. There's a stand on the bottom that you can extend remotely, to save a little battery life and hold the unit in place. And of course as the pole goes higher, the robot has a little tougher time trying to keep the whole rig upright, but as far as I could see, it was very stable. We even gave the robot a little shove, and it was more than capable of balancing itself out.
The whole thing was very impressive. At US$2,500, this isn't exactly a consumer product, unless you're a consumer with a lot of money to burn. But for a telepresence solution, that price is relatively cheap, and the added benefit of using an iPad could be very attractive to potential buyers as well. Cann said the Double is just about ready -- the company hopes to have units shipping out to customers within the month.