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Iterative design of a semi-autonomous social telepresence robot research platform: a chronology

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Our research focuses on how a telepresence robot operator, the people with the robot, and the robot itself collaborate so that the operator reaches his/her intended destination. Our research requires higher levels of autonomous navigation so that the robot can, for example, go to a specified destination and follow a person. However, commercial telepresence robots are primarily teleoperated, and only a few provide assisted navigation around obstacles. Our system must include sensors and processing to enable these capabilities. We present the chronology of our iterative design for augmenting two VGo Communications’ VGo robots, Hugo and Margo, over a period of 3 years. We detail the requirements and design constraints encountered while developing our telepresence robot platforms.

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  1. Synthesized from [47, 5254] and our own robot use.

  2. It should be noted that some material properties and features of the VGo robot have changed since our first use in [47]. The VGo base platforms for Hugo and Margo were acquired in Fall 2010 and Fall 2011, respectively. Specifically, Hugo and Margo had only one WiFi card and do not support 4G. Also, their plastic bodies were stronger than the alpha prototypes used in [47], and Margo’s drive wheels featured a softer rubber.

  3. Property of VGo Communications; used with permission.

  4. VGo Communications replaced the drive wheels with stiffer rubber ones from an earlier revision.


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We would like to thank VGo Communications for their support. Design and software contributions have also been made by Munjal Desai, Kelsey Flynn, Michael Coates, Amelia McHugh, Jamal Grant, Sean McSheehy, Brian Carlson, Brendan Haughland, Xavier Guay, Vicki Crosson, and Bradley Wall of UMass Lowell. Christopher Granz, formerly of UMass Lowell, designed the v1.0 printed circuit boards.

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Correspondence to Katherine M. Tsui.

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This research has been funded in part by the National Science Foundation (IIS-0546309, IIS-1111125).

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Tsui, K.M., Norton, A., Brooks, D.J. et al. Iterative design of a semi-autonomous social telepresence robot research platform: a chronology. Intel Serv Robotics 7, 103–119 (2014).

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