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Video Conferencing Robot – On The Double!

By: Stephen Toback


Ed Gomes (Senior Associate Dean, Trinity Technology Services) and I visited Casey Emerson, Director of Education Technology for the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy to check out their Double Robotics mobile video conferencing unit. We’ve been evaluating the Vgo mobile video conferencing unit and were interested in this unit primarily because it was 1/2 the cost and seemed to offer better mobility given it’s use of a Segway like design. Like the Vgo, it is a proprietary point to point solution, but is based on an iPad and can broadcast back to any other iOS device (iPhone and iPad).  We were hopeful that given its use of the iPad, we’d be able to run something like Cisco Jabber Video for TelePresence to connect the unit via our video conferencing infrastructure, but unfortunately, the robotic control is linked to their proprietary conferencing software. There is an API and we may follow up with the company to see if they plan on supporting other video conferencing equipment.

Casey indicated that since their school had three campuses, Chapel Hill, Asheville and Elizabeth City, video conferencing is used 10-12 hours per day, every day to connect their classrooms. The Double has been purchased to provide faculty a way to better interact with classrooms in Chapel Hill when they are teaching off campus. It is still in test mode, but reaction has been good and they are considering purchasing a second unit as well as the recently announced charging docking station for $300.


You control the unit via a free iOS App. It finds the nearest unit, you log in and you are controlling it. The interface on the iPhone was good, but limited due to the space. It was easy (relatively easy) to drive as compared to the Vgo. This was mostly due to the Segway style mobility vs the Vgo which is more of a tripod wheel. The two wheel design did have some issues. If you didn’t hit a door threshold with both wheels simultaneously, the unit would tilt and bang the door frame. Another issue is it moving across an unsteady floor as shown in this video:

That said, there was an interesting issue with the Vgo during their testing. The Vgo has “cliff detection” which prevents the unit from falling down stairs. The issue was as you can see from the floor below, the Vgo thought the stripes were actually “cliffs” and would not pass. In fact, the dark tile at the door of the classroom required putting down white paper so the unit would drive in.


As you can see below, the interface from the iPad give you more room to interact. I drove the unit down a hall and into a classroom to get the sense of what it would look like for a faculty member at the head of the class. I thought it would be interesting to test using this unit mirrored to an Apple TV as classroom broadcast might be more challenging to hear.

iPad Screen shot

One of the feature enhancements Casey requested was the ability to simply rotate the iPad on the unit rather than use the wheels to go back and forth. The unit can “park” by extending a kickstand like device. This saves energy as the unit doesn’t have to roll back and forth to maintain balance. Once you are locked however, you can’t turn the unit to scan side to side.


One cool feature is the ability to rise from a sitting to a standing position. When driving, you want to be sure you are in the lower position to lower the center of gravity is low otherwise it is more likely to tip. They’ve “face planted” the unit a few times but the housing protected the iPad.

The unit did run into a “dead zone” of WiFi access. You lose video first, then audio. Your mobility is the last thing to go, but driving “blind” seems a bit dangerous. Any unit, unless it had 4G would suffer the same issues (the Vgo was no different during our testing).  You also cannot drive into elevators as there is no wifi (and it can’t yet push buttons). Casey had spoken with the building to see if there was a way to interface with the elevator controls, but that was not allowed due to safety concerns. In hospitals where there are multiple floor robots, they tend to use non-patient elevators such as freight elevators.

Bottom line for less money, the Double Robotics seems like a good solution for single floor point to point video conferencing.

One comment

  1. Stephan, nice write-up on the Double. As you mention the VGo, and the fact that the Double is cheaper, I thought it would be helpful for your readers to understand the additional value of a VGo and also clear up a couple of inaccuracies. I am an employee at VGo.
    – VGo is the only lower cost device to provide “cliff detection” sensors which provide safety for use around stairs, ramps, and stages. While indeed the sensors can be triggered by black flooring, they can be temporarily disabled or enabled by the remote user at any time with a simple click (or touch) in the UI (no white tape needed!) If there are no stairs, the sensors can be turned off all the time with a setting on the VGo itself.
    – VGo is the only robotic telepresence device on the market capable of going a full day without having to recharge the battery. VGo can go more than 12 hours with the extended life battery. VGo’s price includes its charging dock for self-docking capability. In addition, VGo’s battery is user exchange-able.
    – VGo’s camera is tilt-able by the remote user which is very important in enabling them to have the desired view. Without it, you might have to back way up to bring the top of a whiteboard or projection into view or see a person’s face if they are above or below the camera.
    – VGo is the only robotic telepresence device to rotate it’s camera down when not in use to provide comfort to other people that they cannot be “spied on”. Even when you can’t see the screen, you know if someone is there or not.
    – VGo is the only robotic telepresence device capable of easily taking a high resolution snapshot.
    – VGo’s camera height can be 48” or 60”.
    – VGo is a dedicated appliance that is of no value if stolen (Unlike an iPad, there’s never been a VGo stolen).
    – A remote user can use an iPad (you drive with your finger) or Windows PC or Apple Mac where you can drive with arrow keys, mouse, touchpad, or assistive technology device depending on your preference and required level of control. VGo has infinite speed and directional control. VGo’s video window can be sized (up to full screen) for maximum flexibility with other apps.
    – VGo doesn’t move when stationary and is stable when driving. We’ve never had a report of a VGo falling over in operation.
    – The VGo has 4 dedicated microphones for 360 degree coverage. The 8Khz audio produces twice the fidelity of a phone call. The VGo has a dedicated woofer and tweeter for expansive natural sound.
    – The VGo can speak text typed by the remote user, a useful accessibility feature and diagnostic tool.
    – The VGo can easily be carried and it weighs as little as 14lbs (when you carry the battery separately).
    – VGo has a comprehensive cloud service for administrators to manage multiple VGo’s and users within an organization to provide very specific usability, tracking and reporting.
    If you or others have questions, feel free to contact me anytime at

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