Kubi means “neck” in Japanese and that’s just what this new telepresence product is supposed to reproduce. This rig, designed to work with any tablet, essentially creates a user-controlled pivoting system that allows the person you are video-calling to control the position, angle, and rotation of the tablet camera.
It’s not amazingly complex nor is it completely mobile, facts that make Kubi far more interesting for, say, a small office or conference room. Controlling Kubi’s neck, the caller can look around the room, tilt the camera up and down, and keep the camera and tablet a safe distance from the proceedings. As a parent, I’d see Kubi being useful when talking with the family. Rather than one kid hogging the iPad, I could control my position remotely and see everyone in the room from a slight distance.
I talked with Kubi’s creators, Marcus Rosenthal and Ilya Polyakov, both of whom have extensive experience in robotics. They said that they didn’t want Kubi to be mobile “because motors are expensive” and the batteries used to power an upright robot would be prohibitively costly. In short, it was far simpler to create a cool telepresence system than a sub-par roaming robot.
As we tested the Kubi it became clear that this pair was onto something. By giving each party control over their view, the Kubi becomes a sort of surrogate head rather than a stationary webcam. Being able to move from person to person and look each participant in the eye is a cool feeling.
They’re selling pre-orders on the device for $200 on Indiegogo and are looking for funding of $200,000. I doubt it will be difficult.