UK student builds his own telepresence 'Sheldonbot'
A student at the University of Central Lancashire has created a telepresence robot that mimics human behavior.
Known as MAKIIS, the robot is inspired by the Sheldonbot from U.S. comedy "The Big Bang Theory." Moving on wheels and projecting a live video of the user's face via an iPad, MAKIIS can allow an office worker in London to chat with a colleague in Paris as if they were in the same room.
MAKIIS is equipped with a 3D camera—adapted from the Kinect Sensor of a Microsoft Xbox—allowing it to judge the distance of obstacles and prevent it from colliding with them. It can also recognize when a human is addressing it and turn its "face" toward the speaker.
"My robot has been designed to mimic human behavior as much as is possible," said UCLan's Greek-born robotics student Panagiotis Gnafakis, who spent six months and 400 hours building the robot. "Some telepresence robots are little more than Skype on wheels, but MAKIIS hears where the sounds come from and turns to face them."
Several companies in California are manufacturing telepresence robots commercially, but none of them have the features of MAKIIS, according to Phil Tranter, Senior Lecturer at UCLan's School of Computing, Engineering and Physical Sciences. Cisco also markets a telepresence conferencing system.
Some experts believe that telepresence robots could have a significant role in the way businesses operate in the future, as well as in education, allowing teachers to lecture and provide feedback to students all over the world.
"The commercial and personal uses for a telepresence robot like this are almost endless. They could be used for businesses to communicate across the world, as well as for teachers, doctors and lecturers," Gnafakis said. "They could also help families stay in touch, and be particularly useful to help severely disabled people and make them feel more socially included."