Got An iPad And A Roomba? Then You Can Build Your Very Own Telepresence Robot!


Telepresence robots are incredible, aren't they? They really are the next best thing to being somewhere in person. They let you explore a venue as though you were really there, using nothing but your computer. You can see your family, hang out with your friends, explore the show floor at a conference...pretty much anything you could possibly desire.

Unfortunately, they aren't exactly cheap. 

The price point of even the cheapest models goes well beyond what many consumers are capable of spending.  Double, for example, sells at around $2,500 (and requires an iPad to use), while Beam+ is on sale for $1,495. Like I said...not exactly cost-effective, is it?

Ladies and gentlemen, say hello to Telemba.The design principle behind this robot's an incredibly simple one: according to them, existing robots cost too much. They bill their invention as the "world's cheapest telepresence robot."  Kinda difficult to dispute, given that the device's price tag - a paltry $170. Nope, you didn't read that wrong; it's really that cheap. 

Telemba was conceived by a team of Japanese roboticists who wanted to design something a little more simplistic and inexpensive than all the high-tech stuff on the market. After a bit of testing, they managed to cobble together a kit that'll allow pretty much any one to create their own machine - all they need is an iPad and a Roomba.

Okay, so maybe Telemba isn't so much a stand-alone robot as a telepresence construction kit. You shouldn't be all that surprised. After all, even accounting for the cost the original hardware, Telemba's available at a fraction of the price of most other telepresence robots.

But why a Roomba? 

According to the team, it's because they believe there's a lot of people who have outdated Roombas sitting around. Tablets, too. Rather than tossing the old hardware or recycling it, they figured consumers could use it. Hardware-wise, the whole project seems pretty solid- it can even clean your house while you use it! 

It's on the software side of things, notes IEEE Spectrum, where the project is likeliest to fail. Already, there's a small chink in Telemba's armor. See, the robot requires a server to work; although this allows it to more easily operate behind firewalls, there are concerns of what could happen when Telemba's servers go down. The creators say they plan to configure the robot to use a publicly available server by default, but that users who'd prefer using their own servers can do so as well.

The Telemba team is led by Ryosuke "Ron" Tajima, and includes University of Tokyo Professor Kei Okada and several researchers from the JSK Lab - from which was born SCHAFT, one of the startups acquired by Google. Earlier this month, the project went live on Kickstarter. They're are hoping for a total of $31,000 in donations; at the time of writing, with 15 days left in the campaign,they've  only raised $2,100. Kind of unfortunate for such a promising project, really.

I mean, just stop and think about this for a second. It's a kit that allows us to turn old gadgets into robots. How is that not every hobbyists dream come true?