Telepresence robots have been with us for some time now, you might know one from an episode of The Big Bang Theory in which Sheldon was sick and had to stay at home, so he joined his friends as a robot with a flat screen showing his face, a camera and a mic. It was the now well-known Beam robot, which we are going to discuss later. The brand new colorful humanoid kind of robot in the video you’ve just watched, InMoov, looks even more futuristic (and a tad bit creepier), right?
Its movement is completely synchronised with that of the guy in control, who has an Oculus Rift strapped to his head along with other motion tracking devices on his body allowing him to see through the the robot’s eyes, hear through its funny looking ears and make him do stuff with its arms. Mix it all up and you get a feeling of an actual presence in another place – telepresence!
The only thing that the telepresence robot lacks is movement, which will definitely come soon. But wait, that would require something like a treadmill to track my legs movement and that doesn’t exist, right? Well, actually… it does! The Virtuix Omni was primarily made for immersive VR gaming but it could be used for this as well. Who knows, these robots might save lives some day.
It is open-source, so anybody can contribute to the project and 3D print one if they want to. The Beam+, however, is available now for sale at their website. It features the ability to drive around and show people your face while you are talking to them and hearing what they say to you. Basically a tablet glued to a wobbly RC car. You can watch it in action below.
Questions about this new 3D printed telepresence robot:
I’m reading your mind and I know you have questions. Here they are, I already answered them. Anyway, I’m sure I missed some, so be sure to ask in the comment below.
1. How does it compare to the Beam robot?
It has a lot more features, just see how the two compare in terms of how they evoke the telepresence feeling. I personally don’t like that the InMoov robot doesn’t show me the face of the person I’m talking to. However, that could be solved in the future by adding a silicon face like this one.
|InMoov Robot||Beam+ Robot|
|Face||No (creepy robot face)||Yes (your face on screen)|
|Eyes||2 front cameras (3D) and VR glasses||2 cameras (2D) – front, down|
|Ears||2 microphones (I guess?)||4 microphones|
2. How can I build it?
The InMoov official assembly guide lets you download all the needed blueprints and print them if you have a 12x12x12cm 3D printer. People usually start with the robotic hand and assemble the robot further if they want to.
3. Who invented it?
The French sculptor and designer Gaël Langevin initiated InMoov, which the robot in the video you have seen is based on, as his personal project in 2012. It started out as the first open-source prosthetic arm and has been being developed further ever since.
Similar idea: a police Robocop project
Let me end by saying that InMoov isn’t alone. The concept of telepresence using a humanoid robot with user-connected eyes, hands or ears has gotten the police and military interested. In 2014, Jeremy Robins from U.S. Navy donated $20,000 of his own personal money to create a remote-controlled police robot and help his disabled veteran friends get back into the workforce. Yes, as Robocops!