Imagine an NRI farm owner monitoring his plantation in Kerala from the comfort of his apartment in New York and alerting labourers to the pest attack at one end of the farm. Or an army commander stationed at a remote location using his laptop to see and interact with his troops on the battlefield hundreds of km away.
Senior corporate officials on tour can keep close tabs on office proceedings through visuals and audio while undersea salvage operations can be supervised from shore. All this is possible through telepresence robots equipped with sensors, cameras and audio features to provide feedback to a remote user.
If telepresence robots have not found mass application, it is because they are expensive (upwards of $10,000), making them unaffordable for most users. Modern personal devices like tablets and smartphones are now enabling a new generation of low-cost telepresence robots.
The Technopark-based International Centre for Free and Open Source Software (ICFOSS) has developed the prototype of an affordable network-enabled telepresence robot for remote inspection and surveillance in the military, industrial, medical, and agricultural domains.
Based on Open Source hardware and software platforms, the prototype named TR-7 was developed as part of an Android R&D project of the Union Department of Information Technology (DIT), currently being implemented by ICFOSS.
TR-7 was fabricated by Ingen Robotics, a local firm focusing on new-generation robotics, based on specifications provided by ICFOSS. According to a press note issued by ICFOSS, TR-7 was made using locally available components. The user can operate the robot remotely from anywhere in the world using a computer with Internet connection and software to control the robot.
It enables the user to drive around and see and hear the remote location using the robot’s built- in camera and microphone. Anyone at the remote location can also see and hear the user through the robot's display and speakers.
Rejin Narayanan, chief executive officer, Ingen Robotics, said the navigation electronics and communication protocols posed the greatest challenge to the project.
The robot resembling a kneeling biped, uses an Android tablet to run its software, and displays the remote user's face. The built-in speakers and microphone of the tablet are also used for communication.
TR-7 is a differential drive robot, where the two wheels in the front can be driven independent of each other. This allows the robot to take tight turns. The user can connect to the robot using any Linux PC on which the remote control and communication software can be run.
Says R. Srinivasan, project manager of the DIT Project of ICFOSS, “The first version of the robot has proven that telepresence devices based on Open Source platforms such as Android are fully viable. Further work needs to be done on areas such as enhanced robot autonomy, pan-tilt-zoom capability on the robot, and automated homing.”