Telecommuting is one thing but how about actually being there. Imagine you're working from New York and you need to check up on a production plant in Seattle. Imagine being able to walk around the building in Seattle while sitting at your desk in New York, talking to people around the remote office, going in and out of meetings in the conference room, even keeping a close eye on the production line. Well Menlo Park, CA based Willow Garage is making that possible with their Texai communication systems. Now humans can actually inhabit a robot-like unit (think Avatar minus the blue skin and magical trees, or Surrogates). That's right you can take over a robot in Seattle, check up on that production plant, then inhabit another robot in Florida and visit the warehouse there, then posses another robot in California and attend a shareholders' meeting (practically in person)... you get the picture. The possibilities are endless.
Sanford Dickert, good friend of DaniWeb and Texai Product Director at Williow Garage, blew-away the crowd of techies on Tuesday night as he presented at the Tech NY Meetup in NYC. First he remotely visited Willow Garage's offices in Mountain View and walked around the halls there saying hello to the crew. Then, in a few seconds and a couple of clicks, he inhabited a Texai robot at the home of the creator of Texai robots in Indiana for a quick chat.
Here's a video from Tuesday night's event (excuse the amateur video, I'm no pro):[YOUTUBE]gW9HVhWtC5Y[/YOUTUBE]I have a feeling that remote presence can really catch on and become one of those technologiesyou can't live without -especially for companies. There are so many applications for robots like the Texai. I can already think of a bunch: Medical doctors visiting patients, corporate meetings and countless job-related activities, fun and R-sports (R for remote or Robotic or RidiculouslyAwesomelyCool). I can only imagine the enormous amounts of money that can be saved from reducing [or eliminating] the need for travel. Not to mention the G-Factor here, yes I'm talking Green, as in reduced emissions and all that save-the-planetness you get from less driving, less flying, etc. So how can you get one of these puppies? Well, you can't buy one, not yet from Willow anyway. Williow Garage does not have pricing on the Texai yet. They are focusing on using the [Texai] platform to "gain experience with remote presence, and explore any related issues or concerns." But you sure can make one. Yes it's open source and it is rather simple (for a true nerd) to make. All you need are some parts from Steve Wozniak's garage. Most of the Texai is made from off-the-shelf parts such as a Logitech Orbit webcam with pan/tilt/zoom and built-in mic (for communication), a wide angle video camera (for navigation) a computer monitor, speakers, two laser range finders and a decent PC (Texai runs Ubuntu Karmic on an Intel Core 2 Duo with 8GB of RAM). Then you'll need something for mobility (motors, gears, etc.). The Texai uses a "Smart Caster" from Willow Garage's PR2 robot but if you are into robotics you can build your own, it's like making pizza (well not really). For parts and robotics kits Willow Garage recommends this site . Image courtesy of Williow Garage
Texai's software is based on the ROS open-source meta-operating system as well as commercially available video-conferencing software (such as Skype ). The interface can be designed to run from any browser window (see picture below) so you can pretty much control this from your browser enabled mobile phone.
Here is an official video about the Texai:
The Texai is strictly a remote-presence/communication robot so it does not give you arms or allow the user to grab or move things (too bad, could have had some fun with that) but they do make another bot called the PR2 (Personal Robot 2). Here's a video on the PR2 (very interesting):
For information on the TEXAI and other cool robots check out www.willowgarage.com