Show loved ones you virtually care

17 January 2013 by Steve Blum
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Hey. The guy on the left doesn't have an exhibit floor pass.

You don’t have to settle for just sending flowers to a relative in a nursing home. You can send yourself, and the whole family, via a $1,500 teeping robot. Or if you’re on a budget, maybe rent the telepresence device for a few bucks an hour. It’s cheaper than a plane trip, easier than packing the kids in the car and not as hairy as a dog.

That’s one of the pitches (sorta) MantaroBot made at CES last week. The Maryland-based company has a couple different models of mobile robots that combine teleconferencing capabilities with remote control. With the basic model you put, say, an iPad into a mounting bracket, which sits on top of a stick that attaches to a mobile base.

The iPad handles the two-way video chat via Skype, and the separate control channel lets you “walk” around the room, swiveling and nodding your “head” as you go. It uses WiFi for Internet connectivity.

In addition to making inter-generational family relationships more sanitary, the MantaroBot also has enterprise applications. It’s a way to avoid traveling just to attend a single meeting.

The robot’s mobility and physical presence lets a teeping attendee walk around the room – any room, not just a dedicated telepresence facility – and join hallway and cubicle conversations. Or take a factory tour. Not quite the same thing as being there, but heaps better than hanging around on a wall monitor.

MantaroBot is compatible with Skype, Polycom and Cisco teleconferencing protocols and Webex is in the pipeline. It supports Android tablets as well as iOS devices. There’s a higher end model selling for $3,500, which includes dedicated conferencing hardware – monitor, computer, speakers, camera and microphone – and offers more functionality.

Low cost, high impact. The MantaroBot has big potential in the business world. What you do with it in your personal life is up to you.