CES: Coming soon, drones for home and office

Remotely controlled devices can act as your physical substitute

Samsung had a robotic floor sweeper at CES that's equipped with a camera and speaker. The electronics maker wants you to think about its potential.

The Samsung Navibot, a robotic floor sweeper, has a camera and speaker. (Photo by Patrick Thibodeau/Computerworld)

Let's say you're at work and you connect, via an app, to your Navibot floor sweeper. You can adjust the camera position on the unit, as well as control its movement via the controller. By shifting the camera's position around the room, this leads to the discovery that the dog is asleep on the couch. Your next step is to shout into your tablet's microphone "bad doggy" -- and presumably the dog will jump off the couch once it hears your voice coming from Navibot.

The Navibot that was demonstrated as CES is an upgrade from earlier versions. Pricing was not yet available.

This Samsung sweeper also uses the camera to map the room for navigation.

But there is another category of drone-like devices that rely more on human controls and may find a place in the workplace and home, if you can get past their seemingly out-of-body experience.

In the ocean of vendors at CES, was Mantaro, a Germantown, Md.-based firm that's selling a device that doesn't sweep floors, but could act as your physical substitute at a business meeting.

The company's just released product is called TeleMe. An Apple iPad 2, iPhone 4 or 4s or an Android tablet can be fitted in a holder on the unit. The holder can be adjusted to either standing or sitting height. At the base are wheels, motor and battery.

The remote user communicates via Skype over the tablet or iPhone but can also control, via a PC, the movement of the unit. It can, for instance, follow an aging parent around the house.

That unit costs $1,500 today, but Declan Murphy, a director of the company and an engineer, believes the price can be dropped to $1,000 by the end of the year. "In two years' time this is going to be the most popular Christmas present for mom and dad," he said.

A more expensive unit from this company, the $3,500 MantaroBot, has its own camera and more capability to scan an area. It can also be equipped with a laser pointer that can be controlled remotely. Both units connect to Wi-Fi networks.

On a factory floor, for instance, a manager could guide the MantaroBot around and engage employees via the camera and built-in screen. It could also be used at conferences.

Murphy said the device is being used by a university in Chile to allow an instructor in the U.S. to remotely teach students.

This tablet sits on a holder than can be adjusted to either standing or sitting height. It also has wheels and a motor for moving around. (Photo by Patrick Thibodeau/Computerworld)

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Patrick Thibodeau covers cloud computing and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed . His e-mail address is .

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