Most telepresence robots are sold for the slightly disheartening purpose of letting remote workers visit the office from home. But startup OhmniLabs is targeting a more wholesome market. The company says its new telepresence bot, the eponymous Ohmni, is designed to connect families — whether that’s parents on a business trip saying goodnight to their kids, or children logging in to visit their grandparents at their retirement community.
This is mainly marketing, and the basic functionality of the telepresence bot remains unchanged. But the Ohmni does seem like a good deal compared to other available bots. For a retail price of $1,899 you get a mobile robot with a built-in tablet (compare that to the $3,000 Double for which you have to supply your own iPad), and the Ohmni has a number of useful, high-end features, including an auto-docking function. (Just approach the charging dock and tap a button on the app to let the bot guide itself in).
The Ohmni’s tripod-style wheelbase looks solid; it can collapse down into a small, portable package; and the moving “neck” — which lets users tilt their view up and down, or even nod — seems genuinely useful. It may sound like a silly feature, but the lack of body language when using a telepresence robot can be oddly restrictive. Even a small gesture like a nod can really help sell the experience.
OhmniLabs seems to have orchestrated the robot’s launch pretty carefully. A New York Times article details how the bot has been trialled in retirement communities (and welcomed by most of the residents). But the company has some slightly grandiose ambitions, with CEO Thuc Vu telling the NYT: “In five years, [the Ohmni] will be able to wash dishes, do laundry and clean the house.” This just isn’t true. No robot will be able to do all those things competently in five years’ time, let alone a robot cheap enough to be sold to households.
Bu, put the hyperbole to one side, and the Ohmni does look pretty smart. The company is currently raising funds on Indiegogo, and you can get your hands on a bot for just $1,399.