When my colleague James Vincent tried out the first Double Robotics telepresence robot in 2015 and slowly drove around our office in New York from his home base in London, he described the experience as playing fate, but at the office. The latest version of the company's robot, the Double 3, adds mixed reality video so users can click where they want to go instead of using a control pad, bringing the experience closer to driving a Sim.
The Double 3 now has a series of 3D sensors for self-driving, allowing the robot to move while avoiding obstacles. The new "Click-to-drive" interface shows points on the floor for areas where the robot can move, and there are two 13-megapixel cameras that allow users to pan and zoom across the screen. The cameras can physically tilt up and down, which is useful for zooming in to, for example, read papers on a desk. The entire interface can be operated from a web browser or mobile app.
While previous iterations of the Double were in fact iPads on wheels – you literally had to stick an iPad on the robot to make it work – the Double 3 now has a built-in screen to eliminate the need for a separate tablet and fickle Bluetooth connections.
Telepresence robots are still a niche product category, but Double Robotics says it has sold more than 11,000 robots so far. The idea is that it may come in handy for some external employees, or situations where you want to be more physically present than just Skyping, but hopefully not if you are a doctor who delivers devastating news to a dying patient.
The Double 3 will be launched in September with prices starting at $ 3,999. For people who already own the Double 2, the stand-alone $ 3,999 Double 3 head is backwards compatible with the Double 2 base, so you can add the new control functions to the old model.