Robots on the move are making life easier

Imagine you are away from home, at a conference maybe, but would like nothing more than to spend a bit of time with the family.

You can’t do that in person of course, so you use your phone for a chat or perhaps Skype in from your laptop. That will suffice, but it’s a little awkward – your view of the family abode is pretty limited and static.

But what if you could do more than that? What if you could move around the house, perhaps help put the kids to bed or participate in dinner table conversation, and do it completely freely, unrestricted, able to be in control to move and turn and tilt to see everything going on as if you were physically there.

Such is the freedom offered by the Ohmnibot, a telepresence robot and a splendidly clever device that allows a person to dial-in and be ‘present’ at wherever the robot is located. Thanks to the fact it can be folded and transported with ease, that location could be anywhere.

Fantastically easy to use – all its movements are controllable through just a few keyboard strokes – the Ohmnibot is, basically, a screen and camera sitting atop a long pole on wheels that is powered by an electric motor at its base. Motors in its head control the movement of the screen and camera allowing for side to side and up and down tilt motion.

Simple.

And it’s a simple idea with tremendous applications.

Developed in the U.S. by Ohmnilabs and its founders and Silicon Valley entrepreneurs Dr Thuc Vu and Jared Go, the Ohmnibot is being promoted and tested in Australia by MTAiQ Innovation Hub members NXG3N Robotics and its founders, Nathan and Neil Luu. It will soon be available for purchase.

“The number one application for the robot in the U.S. is in senior care,” said Nathan. “It allows medical practitioners to dial in and interact with their patients and also allows family and friends to check-up and visit their loved ones at any time.

“While that is its major application, it can be used for such things as conference or seminar participation too. When Dr Vu travels the the world to conferences he takes an Ohmnibot with him so that anyone, anywhere in the world, can dial in and take part in that event. That’s something we are testing now.”

While there are other such robots available, perhaps the real advantage of the Ohmnilabs Robot is its adaptability, its cost (which currently stands at about $US1500) and the open source nature of its design.

“There are other products out there but Ohmnilabs have a global perspective and designed the robot so that it will be open source, allowing different labs around the world to actually take on a project and build their own version,” said Nathan. “Most of the Parts on the Ohmnibot are 3D printed, so it can be customised for individuals and to individual tasks.

“That is something that we are looking into here – setting up a factory and robotics lab at MTAiQ to manufacture the robot locally.”

While the Ohmnibot may be a useful tool in senior care and event participation, it also has promise in the automotive sector, and MTA Queensland is investigating its potential use as a future aid in training.

“The biggest issue with telepresence robots has been accessibility,” said James Orr, MTA Queensland’s Chief Technology and Innovation Officer. “These robots can range in cost up to $20,000, so until solutions like the Ohmnibot came along, they haven’t been available to those that would benefit most from the technology.

“Where the Ohmnibot sets itself apart is that it can be localised, it is 3D printed, it’s light and can be set up easily. It has lots of applications but the fact it comes in at a price point of about $US1500 means it has real potential to get into homes, businesses and offices across the country.

“At MTA Queensland, we are always looking for new ways that we may improve training over and above the quality face-to-face training we already provide. We are definitely looking at how we can be even more accessible and how we can provide more one-on-one time with students. The Ohmnibot may well offer new ways of training and an increased opportunity to spend a lot more time with students.”

4 May 2018