Zoom calls during COVID-19 pandemic prompts designer to develop inexpensive telepresence robot – National


A British design consultant has built a small, self-assembly telepresence robot that he hopes can bring families and friends together, both during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.Ross Atkin from London has been designing toy robots for five years.

During the COVID-19 lockdown, he felt he could improve the Zoom family’s call experience by changing the design of one of his toys.

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The new robot combines a mobile phone app with a small cardboard robot, making someone responsible for what they see on a video call.

“Having a video call is nothing like being with someone because you’re stuck in that little rectangle (cell phone) and you’re completely addicted to what they’re doing with their rectangle,” said Atkin, an avowed geek design.

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“So what the robot does is allow you to move around their environment. So you’re on a video call, but you also have buttons and you can press the buttons and you can go forward and backward and you can turn around to watch whatever you want and you can tilt so you can look up and down. “

Ross Atkin’s “Smartipresence” device is a self-assembled cardboard robot that allows a video caller to move around the environment of the person they are calling.

Redmond Shannon / Global News

The father of a 38-year-old toddler says the ability to interact in this way is something that works especially well with young children.

“Being able to let the grandparents or the in-laws in the robot to chase the little one around without having to follow them while holding the phone, then that meant we could both do something” , Atkin said. “He could play and they could still interact with him.

“It used to be a job for someone to just follow him by holding the phone, so they could keep looking at him. Because if you gave him the phone, he would put it down right after 10 seconds, and they’d be looking at either the ceiling or the table.

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It’s not a substitute for child care, but Atkin says the comments he’s had so far have told him he’s on to an idea that resonates.

“As far as the way other people have reacted, it’s really, really lovely,” he said. “I don’t think I’m ever sick of seeing people react to this for the first time.”

For young and old

British design consultant Ross Atkin was inspired to design a small, inexpensive telepresence robot, after calls from the Zoom family during the lockdown of the COVID-19 pandemic.

British design consultant Ross Atkin was inspired to design a small, inexpensive telepresence robot, after calls from the Zoom family during the lockdown of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Redmond Shannon / Global News

Larger telepresence robots are often used in business and education, but the machines can sometimes cost up to $ 5,000.

Atkins’ “Smartipresence” robot costs around $ 100, using a Kickstarter campaign – the same fundraising method it used for previous toys.

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He also works as a design consultant on accessibility projects for people with disabilities.

He says the COVID-19 pandemic made him realize that other variations of a cheap telepresence robot could help people in many situations.

“About two months ago, I was absolutely horrified that there were all these people dying without seeing their families at all. And that’s definitely one of the things that made me try to do something in this space, ”he said.

“This (robot) is not the solution to this problem, but it is a step on the road to solving this problem. “

Atkins admits that nothing can replace face-to-face contact, but with so many people working from home during the pandemic, new possibilities have become evident in many industries.

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“I think telepresence will play an important role in supporting people who will need care in the future, even after the pandemic,” he said.

“I think you can make some caregiving tasks much more convenient for the caregiver and the caregiver, and you can end up allowing the caregiver to spend more time caring for the person because they don’t have to. travel. . ”

Technology is often blamed for making us feel more distant.

Atkins hopes his little toy can help do the opposite.

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