Sunday, February 03, 2013, 12:02 am PT (03:02 am ET)
Double Robotics leverages Apple's iPad with Double remote telepresence robotA necessary byproduct of living in the future as we do appears to be the occasional bit of tech that is simultaneously very cool and remarkably impractical. Normally retailing for $2,500, and requiring the investment of at least another $500 to function, Double Robotics' Double telepresence robot fits squarely into that category. It is pretty fun to watch, though.
The Double is a sleekly designed set of motorized wheels with an extensible iPad stand, sort of like a Segway for your favorite Apple tablet. In theory, a user attaches one iPad to the Double, leaves it wherever they can't/won't/don't want to be in the near future, and when it comes time to interact with people remotely fires up another iPad to control the robot.
The iPad attached to the Double displays streamed images like a user's face from the second tablet's front facing camera. Movement is controlled by an accompanying app.
In action, the Double is entertaining to watch, and it appears to be well engineered. The demonstrator would occasionally push the Double to show its ability to maintain balance. It moves and turns quickly, and the variable height of the attached pole also controllable by the iPad app means you can look people in the eye from a remote location.
Here's the thing, though: watching the demonstration over the course of about five minutes, I overheard several people either leaving the display or passing by say something to the effect of "That's really cool, but what would it be good for?"
Double's webpage for the device says it would be applicable in offices for remote teams, school campuses, manufacturing facilities, and so forth. It also raises the possibility of families using the device "to stay more in touch" and retail stores using it as a mobile kiosk. Considering the two-iPad requirement and the necessity of using one iPad to pilot the device, its utility is up to interpretation.
It's also just the slightest bit creepy. There's just something about a face on a screen, gliding toward you on what looks like a Segway.
Still, the Double secured a Best of Show nod at Macworld, and for good reason: it's a well-designed and functional device. It may still be a solution in search of a problem, but it's very fun to watch.