September 22, 2012      

What all began with an Initial $150,000 from Y Combinator

The sweet smell of success is in the air once again for Double Robotics, a Y Combinator recipient ( Y Combinator being the investment program (begun in 2005) that gives very early stage start-ups advice, connections and mentoring in exchange for a small piece of equity).

Sweet product at a sweet price creates demand

These days Double Robotics has its order book filled with 600 sales of its new Double telepresence robot at $1,9999 each for $1.2M. It is now taking orders for 2013.

Double Robotics envisions all kinds of uses for their “Double” bots: Doctors seeing patients remotely, families visiting elderly relatives remotely, virtual tourists exploring a museum in Paris, or even a student considering various colleges could send a Double bot for a campus tour.

Grishin investor

And now CEO Dmitry Grishin, who founded Grishin Robotics to invest in small, early-stage robotics start-ups, has tabbed Double Robotics to be his first investment in robotics to the tune of $250K. See also: Grishin Robotics’ $25M investment fund begins operations.

?The Double Robotics? investment perfectly aligns to our strategy?, said Grishin. ?It is a very consumer-oriented product with potential to fit a very wide range of applications and has already proven a strong consumer demand.?

The ever-growing iPad on wheels crowd

So what got Grishin to write a check? Well, first off, the Double fits exactly into his investment strategy: believes that the time is right to invest in robotics technology, and help bring robots to the mass market.

Secondly, it seems as if Double, a good machine with an asking price a whisker under $2K, is just what the marketplace was waiting for in telepresence robots. This is how the Model T made Ford famous, and Grishin took quick note and now is betting on it with his modest investment.

Why is the Double so fab?

SINGULARITY took a peek a Double and liked what it saw. To feed our evidently voracious need to be in two places at once, robotics company Double Robotics has added its contribution to the ever growing pool of iPad-based telepresence robots.

The first version of ?Double? totes its iPad around on an aluminum base and urethane and plastic wheels. A kickstand keeps it upright when not in use and, when rolling, its two wheels are gyroscopically balanced like a Segway.

It?s powered by a stock motor and controlled with a separate iPad, equipped with an iOS, custom control system.

The video chat is run by TokBox?s Open Tok API and applications, a set of tools that allows developers to add FaceTime features to any iOS app.

Now you?re ready to wheel your Double between cubicles at the office or pop into the kitchen at grandma?s house and strike up a telepresence conversation.

Your robotic ?body double? can roam anywhere there?s Wi-Fi (and doors that open automatically).

Double telepresence robot

At the outset Double doesn?t seem so different from iRobot?s Ava, Willow Garage?s Texai, Ctrl Works? Telepresence Puppet, or iRobot/InTouch?s RP-VITA.

The basic idea is the same, a mobile unit on which to move a tablet or notebook. But despite an already crowded field, Double seems to be separating itself from the competition.

Their first production run has already sold out. If you want one, you?ll have to wait until next year.

Double’s killer pricing and its competition

The difference? While an Ava will run you tens of thousands of dollars, and with its cute robotic head QB by Anybot is perhaps more appealing than an iPad, but the basic package, which runs $9,700, is not as attractive as Double?s.

At $1,999 per robot (not including the price of the iPads), Double is easily the cheapest telepresence robot in the market. No doubt its simple ? and elegant ? design not only appeals to consumers, but to its affordable price.

David Cann (co-founder with Marc DeVidts) got the idea for Double while working for Taptic Toys and didn?t have time to travel to China to inspect the facilities of a prospective manufacturer.

Using technology to be in two places at once

In addition to tele-visiting colleagues and work sites from the comfort of your home, or faraway relatives, telepresence robots can be placed in museums and other historial sites around the world so that we can get a taste of being there without actually being there.

Seeing all the Segway-mounted tourists in Washington DC makes me wonder if we couldn?t mount some robots on tracks and give them the run of the city.

In reality, though, we?ll have to wait and see if telepresence robots are as handy in the real world as they seem on paper. My guess is that navigation issues would be the main obstacle (pun intended) to these robots going mainstream.

Potential barriers to going big-time mainstream

Sure they do great on flat, smooth surfaces, but how well would they navigate rug edges, cable wires or inclines?

The only way to find out and work through these issues is to put them to the test, and given Double?s popularity, it may just be the telepresence robot to lead the way.