Bachelor of Science
Telepresence, Robot, Classroom, Ardueno, Laser cutter
Honda’s driving inspiration is to enhance the joy and freedom of mobility for all. While my Capstone Design Clinic Team was collaborating with Honda to improve college student’s mobility in the Northeast, my honors extension project focused specifically on improving the mobility of users with temporary limited mobility such as students on crutches or knee scooters. My honors project was to fabricate a small telepresence robot that could be easily assembled and used to attend class remotely. During the school year 2018-2019, I conducted market research on telepresence robots, and developed one that allows students to attend class remotely. This report is a documentation of my market research, design development, and accomplishments throughout the year. I also discuss implementation of the device and recommendations for future work in this project.
This project is innovative in the sense that, unlike other telepresence products out in the market, it is targeted for classrooms. Telepresence robots are commonly big and hard to set up, and while security cameras are cheap and easy to handle, their video quality is not appropriate to read a whiteboard. The current market also lacks a way for the student to indicate that they have a question; this interaction is one of the most important aspects of being present in a classroom. I wanted to develop an open-sourced platform that allows students with limited mobility to attend class remotely, without having to invest in expensive hardware. The platform is composed of both a hardware and a software component. The hardware consists of a small light machine that the user controls remotely through an online application.
Given the time frame of this project I focused on developing the software and hardware components enough to prove that my platform is feasible. I decided on the design requirements for my Telepresence Robot (TR) based on the fact that my device had to be suitable for the classroom. The TR had to be quiet but visible when the user wants to ask a question; the hardware had to be robust while still easy to fabricate and assemble; finally, the video quality had to be good enough for the user to see a whiteboard from far away and choose where to look.
Before reaching the final TR version, I did four design iterations for the hardware and two for the web-app. In order to build the TR I used 3 servos, an Arduino MKR1000 microcontroller, a 3D printed part, a phone holder and laser cut acrylic pieces of 1/8`` thickness. Additionally, I used a cellphone as the system to transmit video and audio. I decided to use a phone because, since most people have one, it makes the TR accessible to more people by avoiding the cost of buying and developing another audio-visual system. Finally, leveraging already existing technology allowed me to focus on developing the more innovative aspects of my project.
The final TR design has three major components: An Audio-Visual Attachment Assembly (AVAA), a Robotic Arm, and an Electronic Box. The AVAA allows the user to attach and rotate a phone, and it has two subcomponents that I called “A – Top” and “A – Base”. The robotic arm is a feature not observable in other related products and allows the user to indicate when they have a question. The Electronics Box stores a microcontroller and a battery, and keeps them out of the user’s view. The final assembly is 160 mm wide and 195 mm high, excluding the robotic arm. All the components are held together using fasteners, nuts, threaded rods and/or hot glue. The final web-app version has six push buttons. Four control the movement of AVAA, one controls the robotic arm, and one restores the device to its initial position.
I envision the final design of the TR working in a collegiate level classroom environment. The injured student would use platforms like Skype or FaceTime to video call into the classroom and choose where to look using the TR. In order to use the device, the student would need access to two electronic devices with internet access, and they would have to coordinate with either a classmate or the class’s professor to set up the TR.
After I finished building the final design, I tested the TR structure in two different classrooms by operating it from a laptop and attaching an iPhone SE to it. The final design costs about $118, which is considerably cheaper than the products currently in the market. Additionally it is easy to fabricate, and it meets most of the requirements. The robotic arm was visible to the professor, and the TR accomplishes top priority requirements such as structural integrity and affordability. However, the iPhone SE was only able to capture a readable video up to 2 meters away from the whiteboard, and the assembly only accommodates phones up to 3.3 inches.
While the current design of the TR is operable in a classroom, the user experience can be improved. For the hardware I suggest modifying the assembly so it accommodates iv a wider range of devices with better video capabilities. Additionally, it would be interesting to explore a way to change the assembly so it does not require 3D printed parts. As for the web-app, I recommend working toward including video in the same page where the user controls the hardware.
©2019 Macarena Alejandra Rojas Bustamante. Access limited to the Smith College community and other researchers while on campus. Smith College community members also may access from off-campus using a Smith College log-in. Other off-campus researchers may request a copy through Interlibrary Loan for personal use.
Rojas Bustamante, Macarena Alejandra, "Designing a telepresence robot for the classroom" (2019). Honors Project, Smith College, Northampton, MA.
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