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AmigoBot can be controlled over the Internet

PC World
The AmigoBot E-Presence  

(IDG) -- Robots--whether they're your friends, servants, or simply machines--are a staple of science fiction. And for most people, they have remained nothing more than science fiction.

Now, though, the AmigoBot E-Presence expects to change that.

Imagine a small, bright-red, oval-shaped canister vacuum cleaner, about 2 feet by 1 foot. It has no hoses or attachments; instead it has lots of eyelike sensors and a small video camera mounted at its slightly slimmer front end. That's the basic AmigoBot, a simple remote-controlled robot. Its sensors allow it to avoid objects automatically while rolling around on its one small and two larger wheels.

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The AmigoBot doesn't stop there. It has a wireless radio modem, software for communication and control by PC, mapping and programming software, a rechargeable battery, and a program for access and control over the Internet.

So, what can you do with it? It can keep a friendly eye on at-risk elderly relatives living alone. Or it can enable brief play sessions with your pet during your lunch break, or let you play with your kids while you are on a trip, say the manufacturers.

You can also use the AmigoBot for impromptu Web conferencing: Call in, get AmigoBot to find or call the person you want, and chat. The included microphone, speakers, and camera make this easy.

And if that's not enough to convince you, you may also consider the AmigoBot a buddy. An expensive one, perhaps: AmigoBot E-Presence costs $3195 and comes with a one-year warranty. Two basic versions are also available: One without the control software and camera, but with wireless remote control costs $1795. The most basic version, controlled with a wire, costs $1495.

It's one of several recent robot introductions, and it's among the most flexible.

Rolling and Reporting

The robot has three modes of operation. You can control it directly over the Internet. The robot intelligently avoids obstacles, even if you try to make it drive into them. You can also click a spot in a map of the robot's location, and it will drive to the place you indicate. Finally, you can set the robot to wander around a building randomly. It travels as fast as 3 feet per second and can drive over small bumps like the edge of a carpet, but it cannot negotiate stairs.

The robot has eight sonar detectors as built-in obstacle detectors, in front, back, and side. The manufacturers are developing a custom I/O port so you can add sensors, such as thermal detectors or smoke detectors. Also planned is a docking station for recharging and for continuous Internet access. AmigoBot accesses the Internet through a password-protected private link-up using a VPN.

Is AmigoBot ready to challenge Robby the Robot or one of Isaac Asimov's imagined creations? Not yet: AmigoBot does not have arms. It cannot pick up objects and it cannot move objects. It also lacks built-in lasers, and it is too light to hurt anyone, even a child. World domination by machines is still only the stuff of pulp fiction.

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ActivMedia Robotics, LLC

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