Super-Geek Builds DIY Chatbot To Speak To His Fiancée

Johnny Chung Lee has hacked the Wiimote, helped Microsoft develop Kinect and recently started working at Google. This last career move meant moving away from his fiancée, so he did what any self-respecting geek would do: he built a video chat robot.

Click to viewLee's robot is effectively Skype on wheels: a dedicated netbook mounted on top of a small robot called iRobot Create. He bought both components for around $US250 each, making Lee's robot far cheaper than commercial telepresence robots that can cost thousands of dollars, though a stand to lift the laptop to seating height adds a small extra cost.

Custom software lets Lee remotely control the robot from any laptop, allowing him to interact with his fiancée more dynamically than with a static webcam. The chatbot can even dock with a charging station at the touch of a button, though Lee admits that hacking the iRobot's charger to also power the netbook was "pretty crude and arguably rather unsafe."

If that hasn't put you off, Lee provides the robot's software and full building instructions on his procrastineering blog. Or, why not invent your own? "As cameras, displays, and robotics continue to become more sophisticated, there will be a steady stream of new projects and products that inch further toward that goal," says Lee. "At least, until someone figures out human teleportation."

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