This is Telegance. He is a Telepresence Robot, which means he’s a driver-controlled mobile video conferencing system.
Imagine I’m out in the world traveling on business. I can use my laptop or any other computer to link into the robot through the Internet. The people around the robot see my face on the robot’s screen, which we mounted about kid height. The sound of my voice comes through the speakers, which are mounted just below the screen. I hear through the robot’s microphone and I see through the robot’s camera, which is mounted on two little servos, so I can tilt and pan the camera where I wish to look. I can drive the robot around the house, to the kitchen or the bedroom or where ever, using the robot’s built in motors. His wheels are designed to drive or turn on carpet, tile, and hardwood floors.
How We Built Him
Telegance was a lot of fun to build, but he was definitely one of our most challenging robots so far. We learned a lot. Telegance is our first robot that is based on a computer rather than a microcontroller chip/board. Our vision was to build a robot based on a Mac. So, we grabbed a Mac Mini, tore it apart, ripped everything off that we didn’t need, rewired it for DC (it was an AC computer), and replaced the conventional hard drive with a Solid State Drive (SSD) (so that we didn’t need a fan, it didn’t make any noise, and it used less power). We installed just the stripped down motherboard into the base of the robot. When it booted up it was silent, fast, and ran on 12 volts like the rest of the robot. We then connected this to an Arduino Mega microcontroller through a USB cable. The Mac Mini, which runs a special Skype plugin we wrote, handles the webcam videoconferencing (using Skype), the touch screen, and 802.11b networking. The Arduino handles the drive motors, the webcam pan-tilt servos, power distribution, and other robotic features. We constructed the robot’s frame in our workshop using raw aluminum plate and c-channel. We especially like the cool wheels on this robot.