An iPad on a stick
Just put an iPad on a telescoping pole, that can extend between five feet and 3 1/2 feet to be at eye level for seated people. Now attach that pole to a little, 15-pound, Roomba-sized robot that looks like a barbell, except that each weight is a wheel and it has kickstands for when it needs to stay put. All you need is another iPad a few thousand miles away and an app to remote control it, and that's basically what the new Double is like.
Simple to use
As the videos on Double Robotics' website demonstrate, controlling the Double looks a lot easier than wrangling a robotic arm or other contraption. Just tap your iPad's on-screen buttons to tell it to move, turn around, or telescope upwards or down. It uses your iPad's front-facing camera to project your face on the Double's iPad, and it uses the Double's iPad to show you what the robot can see. (Because of this, it doesn't work with the first-generation, camera-less iPad.) The same goes for speakers and microphones.
Visit museums from home
That's one use the company's pushing. Other uses include touring colleges, collaborating in offices, and getting together with family. Is the Double a boon for distance relationships? Maybe, if you're rich enough to afford it.
Built by a hardware startup
Funded by angel investment firm Y Combinator, Double Robotics took the Facebook (face-bot?) approach to its robot design. Instead of trying to make a large, expensive, human-shaped robot, they put together the bare minimum needed to give a person a remote presence, and tied it together with off-the-shelf Apple hardware.
Compare and contrast
Perhaps the closest alternative to the Double is the "Ava Mobile Robotics Platform" by iRobot, the maker of the popular Roomba automatic vacuum cleaner. It also uses the "iPad on a stick" form factor, more or less. While it's "Designed for the Real World," however, the bigger and bulkier Ava doesn't appear in the iRobot store, and is apparently not for sale to individuals. Instead, CNET's Martin LaMonica reports that it's being given a trial run by various industries.
The Double's first shipment has sold out, and when it's available again it'll cost $2,499. Preorders receive a $500 discount, however, and will be shipped in early 2013.
Jared Spurbeck is an open-source software enthusiast, who uses an Android phone and an Ubuntu laptop PC. He has been writing about technology and electronics since 2008.