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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Robot of the Day: Vgo Telepresence Robot Lets Texas Student Attend School as a Robot

Vgo is a telepresence robot developed by Vgo Communications.It has a very simple design: a wheeled mobile base, a video camera at the top, and a small monitor with speakers and microphone. Although many people have built their own telepresence robots of a variety of forms, Vgo is one of the few that actually commercialized it as a product. Although the company has mainly targeted business customers and promoted using Vgo for tele-conferencing and business meetings, it had become famous recently for helping a Texas student to attend school as a robot.

Baty drives Vgo around school to attend classes (photo credit: CNN)
Lyndon Baty, a young man who suffered from a polycystic kidney disease, could not attend school because his immune system has been severely weakened from his treatments.But thanks to Vgo and technology-prone school officials, he can now happily attend classes every day at his high school in Knox City, Texas, as a robot! Like his classmates, he would switch between classes, and even chat with friends in the hall way during break time. For a boy who has spent much of his life in isolation, this robot has really set him free. Especially for teens who are used to social interactions through technologies such as Facebook, Skype, Baty, represented by Vgo, fits right in. Look at that big smile on Baty's face in the following video.

As great as the story sounds, the robot Vgo is definitely not cheap, with a retail price of $6000 plus a $1200/year service contract. I could probably throw a Netbook on top of a Roomba (or Create) and achieve similar effects for roughly $450. Also Vgo doesn't have any arm, so it always required extra help when it comes to opening doors (as you can see from the video above). Will people be willing to pay the big bucks for such telepresence capabilities? Will robotics companies like this one survive and become profitable?

It's worth noting that telepresence robots also might raise many additional concerns. For example, the video camera on the robot can record and reproduce everything it sees, and the video stream might even be hijacked, thus invading people's privacy. The robot might also be remotely hacked and taken over, thus enabling ill-intentioned foul play. But one thing we can all be sure: these robots are coming into our lives and we'll only see more and more of them everywhere as time progresses.

Video of the Day:

I can't find anything more appropriate than this video below for today's Video of the Day. The Big Bang Theory: The Big Bang Theory - Sheldon-bot. Enjoy!