How to Make a Tabletop Telepresence Robot to Beam Yourself Into Meetings


Story by Aja Bogdanoff

I manage TED’s online community from my home on the West Coast, and while many of my interactions are with people based all over the world, the majority of my colleagues are based across the country at TED HQ in New York City. As anyone who works remotely knows, attending meetings as a giant videoconferencing head-on-the-wall isn’t nearly as much fun as having a real seat at the table. So I started thinking.

The obvious solution would be to get hold of a telepresence robot. That’s the technology that allowed Edward Snowden to trundle onto stage at TED2014. But those are expensive, and I love trying to build things myself. I had an iPad with FaceTime, and I thought I might be able to use it to get a seat at the conference table.

Thus, after much garage tinkering, allow me to introduce…  the Rotate-mo-tron 4000! With this handy little ‘bot, I’m able to control the iPad from 3,000 miles away. I can rotate it 180 degrees to look left and right, letting me follow the conversation and make eye contact with individuals as they speak. Co-workers can pick up the stand and tote me around the office if there’s a last-minute room change — and I once chatted with a fellow iPad-enabled remote worker in the office kitchen. Two iPads talking to each other; great fun. And, best of all, it uses the iPad’s built-in wi-fi to control the rotation, making it effortless to connect to my remote web controls.

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