A Web server with wheels

By Mark Gibbs, Network World |  Hardware

Here's a rather fringe Web application: a telepresence device called iRobot-LE from iRobot.

The mobile part of the system is a cool-looking, 50-pound, eight-wheeled device (it can climb stairs with what the company refers to as a raising/lowering boom) that has a color camera with pan-and-tilt control. There's also audio support (listen and speak); a temperature sensor; infrared, tilt and collision sensors as well as a sonar ranging and mapping system.

The iRobot-LE also sports a wireless connection using the Proxim Symphony wireless networking system and runs Linux with the Apache Web server.

The point of the on-board Web server is to provide an interface for remote control, which is the only real use of the device as is. The company has not, rather curiously, provided the device with any autonomous functionality and expects third parties to add such products through an SDK.

The product pitch is for telepresence operations, such as security, checking on pets and -- I am not making this up -- saying good night to the kids ("Frank! Stop scaring the children with that damn robot. Leave the bar, and come home to say good night to them like other fathers!")

There may be more to the product, but the Web site is a little disorganized, making it hard to tell. For example, one page says, "A vocabulary of hundreds of phrases allows the robot to express its emotional state as you play with it," but I couldn't find any reference in the technical specifications to speech synthesis.

But this is the first mobile robotic device I've seen to sport a built-in Web server. With a starting price of $4,995 it will be a pricey server but a cool toy. Don't expect one for Christmas unless Santa has friends at the company: the iRobot-LE is due to ship in the first quarter of 2001.

iRobot

22 McGrath Highway

Somerville, MA 02143

617-629-0055

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