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Double Robotics converted its telepresence bot into a camera operator for shooting 360 video

You can teach an old droid new tricks

For the last few years, we've toyed around with the Double, a telepresence robot from Double Robotics. It lets you affix an iPad to a set of wheels and cruise around an office, communicating remotely with your colleagues. Today, the company announced a new application for its bot: a camera carrier that allows you to capture smooth, 360-degree video, a medium which is growing alongside the burgeoning virtual reality industry.

Not much about the Double had to change for this new application. In fact, the inspiration came from outside the company. Double executives heard from cinematographers who had improvised a way to attach a 360-degree camera rig to their rolling bot. "The big problem filmmakers have right now with 360 is, 'Where do you put the crew?' You can’t hide them anywhere, they are always going to be in the shot," says Double Robotics founder and CEO David Cann. "Traditional dolly systems have a big giant track that will be in the shot and some guy pushing it." The Double's natural characteristics — slim, smooth, and largely silent — made it an ideal fit for the job.

To tap this new market, Double has built a universal camera mount that can hold any 360-degree camera up to five pounds in weight. They swapped the iPad on the bot for an iPhone, slimming down the profile of the device to keep it out of the frame as much as possible. The company is charging $3,000 for the Double Dolly with a camera mount and carrying case, the same price it charges for a fully equipped telepresence bot. The camera mount is also available as a standalone accessory for $249 and is compatible with existing Double units.

Calling in to your camera

The dolly version doesn't come with a charging station, audio kit, or additional wide-angle camera, all items you get in the $3,000 telepresence package. That loss of the charging kit is a bummer, but the rest of that gear doesn't make much sense for the Double when it's in filmmaking mode, because they would occupy the same space as the 360-degree camera rig.

Along with hiding the equipment, Double was a natural fit for hiding a crew. "We were literally calling in over cellular, from a hundred feet away, hiding behind a building, which is what you need to do when you're making a 360-degree film," says Cann. The Double is still operated with a mobile device over LTE, so you'll need one device for the bot and one to operate it. It can also be operated over Wi-Fi or Bluetooth if you're in a spot without cellular connectivity.