Intrepid engineer Johnny Lee Chung has struck again, this time creating a do-it-yourself telepresence robot for just $500. He explains his method and demonstrates the robot in the following video.
(Johnny Lee Chung's videochat robot)
There are two major components to the project: the iRobot Create which costs around $250 (incl. battery, charger, and USB serial cable) and the netbook which I got for around $250 as well. At $500, this is a pretty good deal considering many commerical ones go for several thousand dollars. The software was written in C# with Visual Studio Express 2010 and only tested on Windows 7 with the "Works on my machine" certifcation. =o) I'm sure there are TONs of problems with it, but the source is provided.
Fictional engineer Tony Rand created something very similar in Niven and Pournelle's 1980 novel Oath of Fealty:
That led to his development of robot probes; small devices with cameras and sound equipment which could move freely through Todos Santos under Rand's direct control. If he sent out two or three of the small tele-operated devices (he called them Arr-twos after the small droid in Star Wars), Rand could effectively be in several places at once...
(Read more about robot probes)