View Full Version : [Contest Entry] RoboCam - A Telepresence Robot

04-15-2008, 04:44 PM
I recently completed construction of RoboCam which is my web-based telepresence camera platform built on the iRobot Create. Using a web browser, RoboCam can be remotely controlled from any location that has internet access. A simple set of web controls and a live video feed allow you to drive RoboCam around as though you were actually there. When you’re done exploring you simply drive back to within the vicinity of the recharging station and press Dock. Using the built-in docking capability the Create will automatically maneuver and dock itself. Once the Create has docked the station it will recharge completely depleted batteries in less than three hours. In order for the user to keep an eye on the RoboCam’s health the robot can send back telemetry. This includes battery capacity, temperature, voltage, and current drain which are displayed in the web browser.

I posted a video of RoboCam in action on YouTube. It is taken from the point of view of the remote user and shows the web based user interface.



The Create provides all the necessary sensors and docking/charging capabilities. It uses the built-in cliff and bumper sensors to protect itself from falling down stairs and avoiding objects. For distance measuring a Ping is used. This complemented the Create’s own sensors and provided a less violent method of detecting objects as opposed to the way the Create does it by crashing into it first and then sensing it with a bumper switch. Like many of my robots the Propeller chip was used as the main controller.

Most of RoboCam’s components are mounted in or on a 10 x 8 electronics case (Jameco #18877) mounted onto the Create’s four hard points located around the cargo bay. It is mounted slightly forward to keep the Create’s center of gravity over its main driving wheels. Two voltage regulators were used to reduce the Create’s 14.4 volt battery down to 12 volts for the camera and 9 volts for the electronics.

RoboCam uses an off the shelf Panasonic Wireless Network Camera (BL-C30A) for video. This keeps the design simple and eliminates the need to get into complex streaming video. Optionally audio could be included by selecting a more advanced (and more expensive) model. As an added bonus, the camera’s built-in pan and scan allow you to look from the floor to the ceiling and nearly 180 degrees from left to right.

The camera is mounted on top of a 10 inch Linear Actuator available from ServoCity. The actuator extends from 15 to 25 inches at about ½ inch per second. The actuator is mounted inside a 2 inch piece of PVC pipe which is mounted on top of the electronics enclosure using PVC shower drains as attach points. Try explaining that to the plumbing guy at Home Depot. Including the height of the Create and the enclosure box, this gives the camera’s height above the floor of about 27 inches with an extended height of 37 inches. Although it works in any position, it is best to have the mount fully retracted for docking. This lowers the center of gravity and makes for a more gentle docking experience.

I added a laser pointer to aid in depth perception and steering. It is focused 3 feet in front of the bumper. It’s amazing how this helps with depth perception when driving RoboCam from the web. It is mounted in a leftover video camera mount that I had on hand.

To establish the connection between the RoboCam and the Internet a separate web server using the PINK (Parallax Internet Netburner Kit) is used. Using a Parallax Propeller chip, commands from the remote web user are received by the PINK and are then transmitted to the RoboCam using a pair of Parallax 912 MHz wireless transceivers.

RoboCam could be used for serious applications like security, summer home monitoring and even elder care but I’m currently using it for something far more important. I use it to check up on our cat while we are on vacation!

I attached a couple of photos and a system diagram. I posted more details on my personal web site.

04-21-2008, 11:59 AM
Nice work Steve:) I got you entered into this round.

Thanks for the diagram too. I was having a little bit of a hard time understanding the "geeky" details till I looked through that.

The other cool feature is the addition of a telescoping neck. The camera can be positioned anywhere from 24 to 36 inches above the floor. I used a 12v linear actuator from Servo City.

Cool indeed! That is an awesome, yet incredibly simple use of a linear actuator. Which actuator did you use from Servo? How are you controlling it?

Just to clarify, does Robocam have object recognition or was that an overlay in the video?

Also, do you have any closer shots of the box (and inside shots of it, we looove geeky stuff like that:D)? I'm trying to figure out what that black thing is mounted on the corner.

04-22-2008, 10:08 AM
Thanks, Alex,

Iím using the 10Ē (HDA10.00) linear servo. This gives me the height range I was looking for. I needed to add a guide (you can see it in the pictures) due to the fact that the shaft has a tendency to rotate as it extends.

No, there is no object recognition in the Roomba. I added those comments when I edited the video. The Panasonic network camera has no connection to the Roomba other than for power.

Iíve attached a few more pictures. The black thing in the corner is the laser guide. Itís a laser module mounted in a leftover video camera mount that I had on hand. I focus the laserís dot three feet in front of the robot. You can see it in the video. It helps with depth perception.

04-22-2008, 05:48 PM
Gotcha! Thanks for the explanations Steve:)

Man, this project just looks so slick and polished! Have you thought of selling it commercially?

04-23-2008, 01:46 PM
Thanks, again, Alex

Yes, I've thought about it but I doubt I could compete (even though I think I have a much more robust solution) with the iRobot ConnectR or the WooWee Rovio.

04-23-2008, 04:58 PM
Where did you get that project box? Looks useful!

04-24-2008, 09:02 AM
I got the project box from Jameco Electronics (www.jameco.com (http://www.jameco.com)) and the part number is 18877.

11-11-2008, 02:11 AM
Very nice project Norris56 well documented.

Enusi Malik
11-11-2008, 12:40 PM
Very nice work, any project that includes telepresence is very unique to work with, good stuff on the details as well.