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When the only way to stay connected is to build your own robot

When the tyranny of distance and busy schedules mean the only way to stay in touch is to build your own telepresence robot.
By
March 21, 2016
RambleBot

This was the dilemma an Australian man faced when a divorce and relocation to the U.S. meant he would have severely limited access to his children. Rather than become a non-presence in his kids’ lives, he took matters into his own hands and built a surprisingly good telepresence robot instead.

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Matt Walker had never built a robot before the RambleBot, his name for the go-anywhere Mars Rover-esque telepresence robot he built by hand. He had previously been using a robot he found on Kickstarter, but when the project died he decided to build his own.

As Walker told Mashable Australia, finding a practical use for robotics in his personal life was all the motivation he needed to learn the basics of electronics and soldering. But the inventive father didn’t want to just recreate what he had been using before.

It is not as good as being there, but it is the next best thing. I can keep daily contact.

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Walker was adamant that his robot needed to be more adaptable to his kids’ lifestyle, and that meant being able to go outdoors and have a longer battery life than your average telepresence robot. “I now go to school, I go to birthday parties with them. It is not as good as being there, but it is the next best thing. I can keep daily contact. You can be there more than I would expect under a normal divorce situation.”

The RambleBot may not be the most attractive robot ever to grace his kids’ lives, but it gets the job done. As Walker says, “it is built for function at the moment over design, I design it at the moment for usability rather than style.” But his novel idea has garnered some attention and Walker is now building RambleBots to order, having sold around 50 already.

RambleBot

The RambleBot uses Skype for video conferencing so there’s no complicated software or setup and any phone can be attached to it. Walker is selling the RambleBot for $119 Australian, which works out to about $150 in the U.S.. Walker has also used it to maintain a presence in his mother-in-law’s life too, who suffers from advanced stage Parkinson’s Disease.

“It has some really good applications, and I have gotten a lot of heartwarming messages. It has been a really good thing, and I think the future of it will be really huge,” Walker says. Being able to stay in his kids’ lives despite great distances and busy school and work timetables is surely its own reward, but knowing there’s widespread interest in a personal solution just goes to show that necessity sometimes breeds the best kind of invention.

What are your thoughts on telepresence robots? Would you use one to stay in touch?