Hands on with the RoboDynamics TiLR telepresence robot

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After we wrote about TiLR last week, RoboDynamics invited us down to their headquarters to check one out in person. The idea is simple, straight out of countless science fiction flicks: rather than physically going somewhere, you virtually hop into a robot already on site. A camera, mic, and steering system on your end put you in the body of the robot as you roam the location, seeing and hearing things as if you were there.

Even in its beta state, I really enjoyed my time with the TiLR. I was a bit wary at first, completely convinced I was going to break something. When you’re in an office surrounded by a bunch of robots worth thousands each, breaking things is a bad, bad idea.

Fortunately, my worries were gone after about 30 seconds behind the wheel. While the driving mechanism (see video) may seem a bit foreign for those raised in first-person shooter battlefields, it’s easy to pick up. After a desk bump or two, I was roaming my way around the halls without any trouble. And as for breaking it? That’s probably not going to happen. I gave the TiLR a solid push, and it didn’t falter. I wouldn’t go and throw a running jump kick at it, but it’s not going to tumble over if someone bumps into it in the office. Just be sure to take the elevator – while future revisions will have IR sensors which prevent surprise face-first adventures down the stairs, those haven’t been implemented yet.

Where as I had expected the TiLR to be running some commercially distributable Linux distro or a proprietary OS, I was somewhat surprised to see that it was using plain ol’ Windows. While I imagine this might disappoint the some of the geekcore amongst our readers, it’s probably better in the long run. While the IT guys who will be setting these up at their company office might be familiar with Linux, they’re almost certainly familiar with Windows. Want to expand the TiLR by way of USB? If there’s a driver for the accessory, you can almost guarantee it’s available for Windows.

What about price? One of the goals with TiLR is to keep the price low – “low” being a relative term, of course. Though there are other entries into the near-human-sized telepresence robot market, they generally cost upwards of $200,000 – at this point, RoboDynamics is aiming to keep theirs between $5,000 and $10,000. It might be just out of range for Joe Foodbringer, but when your company is spending 3 grand per trip to fly the CTO to the new factory every other week, the cost balances out pretty quick.

The TiLR hooks up to the network via WiFi. While this probably works just fine in the office and factory setting, I find the idea of strapping a WiMax card into this guy and roaming the streets far more intriguing. Sound lazy? Sure. But it’d be damned cool. That’s the future, folks.

It’s still in development, but I like it already. Granting owners the ability to chat it up with distant colleagues and roam far-away halls, the TiLR has legs – I just can’t wait until it gets some arms.

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