Texas Robot

Here at Willow Garage, we're accustomed to robots roaming the hallways. Robots are our tools (and occasionally, entertainment), and we always know what's coming when we hear the familiar drone of casters down the hall. Recently, however, we can't be so sure.  The newest addition to our building sports a single PR2 caster and resembles a scrawny metal stick figure -- until you notice the smiling, human face gazing back at you from the mounted computer monitor.  Usually it greets you by name. This new addition is named Texas, and it's driven by Dallas. In Indiana.

Dallas Goecker is a Willow Garage electrical engineer living in Indiana, and Texas is Dallas' new telepresence robot here in the office. Dallas is Willow Garage's first telecommuter and it's only fitting that he telecommutes by robot. Dallas teleoperates his surrogate around the entire building, attending meetings, asking questions, working collaboratively, and, sometimes, taking lunch breaks with us. Like PR2, Texas sometimes loses wireless connectivity, but ultimately, Texas is a co-worker, not just a tool. We make small talk when passing in the hall, ask work-related questions, and politely offer to share our food, albeit, sarcastically.  Through this telepresence robot, Dallas has been able to integrate himself with the rest of the company, and really become a member of the team despite his location.

Dallas, along with Curt Meyers, built the first prototype of Texas by raiding the spare-parts drawer at Willow Garage. They used an old prototype PR2 caster, a car battery, a leftover monitor, and some Bosch framing to build the basic structure. They added off-the-shelf speakers, microphone, web camera, and a laser range finder. They were able to use the same ROS software that we're using to build the PR2: motor controllers, navigation stack, and teleoperation software. All they had to change was the "robot model", which describes the basic structure of the robot.

Texas may not have all the bells and whistles of the PR2, but it shows us the new avenues and potential of our modular hardware and software. It may be built out of leftovers, but its simple capabilities have profoundly changed how we are able to interact with Dallas.

Comments

Power

OK...now that we know it's a manual recharge job. Several questions (hope you feel like answering). #1 What version of Linux? I'm ready to start playing with this and would like to use the same as you guys. #2 What computer did you use on-board? I see an AOpen. #3 What are you using for wireless access on the AOpen? #4 What kind of battery? Looks like a marine battery to me. #5 How much power are you using in your setup? Is the monitor low-power? #6 How long is it lasting (in general) before needing recharging?

It's running Karmic Koala on

It's running Karmic Koala on an AOpen dual-core with a Linksys WRT54g router. We don't officially support Karmic, but we're slowly migrating to it. I don't know the battery stats, but I believe that it lasts most of a general work day.

Recharge

I am a telecommuting employee also and am interested in doing a similar solution. How are you handling recharging since you're in telepresence mode?

Charging station

Currently a local co-worker has to replug Texas in, though the charging system is designed so that you can pull away from the charging station without assistance. Maybe one of these days we'll get PR2 to plug Texas in ;).

Auto-docking

We're working on an auto-docking routine now -- a little computer vision landmark spotting routine that will allow the Texas bot to recharge itself.

Video Conferencing App

That is an inspirational tool that reminds me of something that I think iRobot was trying to sell, about 10 years ago. In the demonstration video, the video conferencing app looks to be running quite smoothly with great resolution. What application do you use? Skype? Thanks

Yes, that is Skype running on

Yes, that is Skype running on the machine. The system evolved from normal Skype video conferencing with a laptop, to a co-worker carrying that laptop around to important locations, to Skype-ing into the robot.