The company has chosen an interesting tack: take a minimalistic design (basically a mobile iPad stand of roughly human height) and market it as the platform that can turn your iPad into a telepresence robot. After all, most high-tech companies are already footing the bill for their employees' iPads.
You can log into the iPad from any computer or iOS device, and drive the robot around while streaming two-way audio and video via an app. The stand weights just 15 lbs and the iPad can be extended vertically from three and a half to five feet to maintain eye level with people sitting or standing, The Segway-style base uses high-efficiency motors to zip around for up to eight hours on a charge.
The telepresence robot’s design is streamlined rather than typically clunky and top-heavy, with a UI that iPad owners are already comfortable using. As IEEE Spectrum observes, Double Robotics' leveraging of the iPad is “a good idea because it's a way to effectively offload a bunch of the trickiest and most expensive pieces of your robot on someone else (who will keep making them better so that you don't have to), and it's risky because that someone else (Apple, in this case) doesn't give a hoot that you're using their hardware on your robot, meaning that they're going to be designing and optimizing for their users, not yours.”
TIME—Double Robotics isn’t the only one to incorporate common consumer products into its robots. The initially Kickstarter-funded Romo by Romotive lets you plug your iPhone or Android phone into a dock with wheels and drive it around, letting you see whatever the robot sees. Downloadable apps will add new functionalities in the future. Romo comes in at a highly affordable $149.
But as Double Robotics points out on its website, it’s product is definitely within the price range of a museum that wants to let people explore its collection from home or a company that wants to keep tabs on its overseas factories from its headquarters.
Still, Romo is only inches tall, and its base resembles a Lego tank more than a sophisticated mobile device. Double Robotics might have finally found the right way to get robots in the hands of more users. And we bet competitors will soon flood the market with their own variations of the concept.