Gostai Jazz Telepresence Robot Unveiled

This little French robot wants to be your avatar

3 min read
Gostai Jazz Telepresence Robot Unveiled

gostai jazz telepresence robot

French robotics company Gostai is unveiling today a mobile robot called Jazz designed for "telepresence and telesurveillance."

The waist-high robot, which a user can remote control using a web-based interface, rolls on two wheels and has a head that can move in any direction, with a camera stuck on its forehead. The price starts at 7900 euros.

This is the first time that the Paris-based company, known for its robotics software, ventures into hardware.

Jean-Christophe Baillie, founder and CEO of Gostai, tells me that they built the robot "very quickly," relying on the experience they gained by interacting with robot manufacturers that use their software.

"This is a little revolution for Gostai," he says, "and we are very excited about the potential of this little guy!"

I've tested a couple of telepresence robots this year [see our special report on robotic telepresence] and look forward to driving the Jazz as well. But just by looking at the specs and video I've noticed several interesting things.

First, the robot can not only use Wi-Fi -- as other telepresence robots do -- but it can also connect to a 3G cellphone network. From what I know, this is the first telepresence robot with this capability. [Update: Despite what its website says, Gostai hasn't implemented 3G yet. The company says it will be available soon.]

Another interesting thing is that its head can turn in any direction. This is very helpful when you want to see the floor, or when you want to look, say, left or right without actually moving the robot.

Also interesting, the Jazz robot runs on Gostai's Urbi open-source robot operating system, the company's flagship product, and also uses the GostaiNet cloud computing infrastructure. Baillie says some features, like video recording and voice synthesis (if you're using the Jazz at marketing events, you can prepare a text document and the robot will speak it aloud), already rely on the cloud and they plan to add more cloud-based capabilities soon.

But the most innovative thing in my opinion is the web-based remote control interface. You drive the robot just by clicking with the mouse on the video feed. Say you're driving the robot and the video is showing a long corridor -- you just click at the end of the corridor and the robot will go there. "It's a bit like the 3D cursor of Google Street View," is how Baillie puts it.

(For comparison, the Anybots QB, which you control using the keyboard's arrow keys, was very easy to drive in my tests; the Willow Garage Texai has a web-based control pad that you have to click with the mouse, and I found this approach not as easy to use.)

gostai jazz telepresence robot

In terms of limitations, the robot is short -- only 1 meter tall -- so people talking to it will be looking down, unless they're sitting (and even then, they still have to stare down a bit).

And then there's the lack of a LCD screen so that people interacting with the robot can see the face of the remote operator -- a capability that some argue is essential for a true telepresence experience.  

Robotic telepresence expert Sanford Dickert, who helped develop the Texai robot at Willow Garage, writes at his Pilot Presence blog:

Interestingly enough, the team at Gostai have eschewed the concept of two way visual presence which I use as a hallmark for a true RPS [remote presence system], and play in the range of the WowWee Rovio or the iRobot ConnectR.

But that might change. Baillie, the Gostai CEO, tells me that they're working on a version of Jazz with a screen that "should be available soon." They built the current model to have a less expensive offering that they believe "will find its niche." 

The robot, which can run for five hours and docks automatically at a recharging station, comes in three versions. Jazz Connect, for offices, costs 7900 euros. The Jazz Icon, for marketing events, comes equipped with a tray for carrying objects and costs 7900 euros, or it can be rented for 1800 euros. The Jazz Security, costs 8400 euros and has more autonomy and a camera that can see in the dark.  

Watch the Gostai Jazz robot in action:

Images and video: Gostai

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"I should probably not be standing this close," I think to myself, as the robot slowly approaches a large tree branch on the floor in front of me. It's not the size of the branch that makes me nervous—it's that the robot is operating autonomously, and that while I know what it's supposed to do, I'm not entirely sure what it will do. If everything works the way the roboticists at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL) in Adelphi, Md., expect, the robot will identify the branch, grasp it, and drag it out of the way. These folks know what they're doing, but I've spent enough time around robots that I take a small step backwards anyway.

The robot, named RoMan, for Robotic Manipulator, is about the size of a large lawn mower, with a tracked base that helps it handle most kinds of terrain. At the front, it has a squat torso equipped with cameras and depth sensors, as well as a pair of arms that were harvested from a prototype disaster-response robot originally developed at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory for a DARPA robotics competition. RoMan's job today is roadway clearing, a multistep task that ARL wants the robot to complete as autonomously as possible. Instead of instructing the robot to grasp specific objects in specific ways and move them to specific places, the operators tell RoMan to "go clear a path." It's then up to the robot to make all the decisions necessary to achieve that objective.

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