ActivMedia AmigoBot E-Presence
The red, plastic AmigoBot resembles a canister vacuum cleaner as it rolls around on its three wheels. To avoid slamming into walls or other objects while buzzing around the floor, the AmigoBot comes equipped with eight sonar sensors. You can hear a faint cricketlike clicking coming from the robot as it sounds out its surroundings. Our fully loaded review unit came with a host of options, including a wireless modem to control the robot from a PC, and a wireless Webcam mounted atop the robot to give a dog's-eye view of the robot's surroundings, visible on a remote PC. The Webcam's cheesy built-in microphone never worked well enough to allow us to hear what was happening around the robot; all we heard was static. But at least with the remote software, you can have it "speak" preprogrammed messages.
The robot comes packaged with several powerful pieces of software. AmigoEyes is the basic control software package that allows you to direct the robot from your PC. On the PC screen, you can see the AmigoBot's view from the Webcam and drive the robot with your mouse. You can draw a map of your home or office with the AmigoMap software and load it into AmigoEyes. With a good map, the robot can automatically plot a course through doorways and down halls to reach a destination. But generating an accurate map of even a single small room can take hours of measuring, computer work, and trial and error. Most likely, this is not the most efficient use of your precious time.
We used the AmigoWorldLink software to turn our test PC into a Web server; to do this, you need to be savvy enough to set up your computer with a static IP address. AmigoWorldLink lets people around the world connect to your PC with the AmigoFamily client software to see what your robot is up to and to take turns driving it around. Our first attempts with AmigoFamily were frustrating because we couldn't control the robot. It took the troubleshooting efforts of three ActivMedia employees (the company that manufactures the AmigoBot) to track down an unchecked check box in the AmigoWorldLink software and to get everything working for us. We needed the extra help because the included documentation was far too vague to help us fix the problem for ourselves.
If you're really into robots, a remote control from a PC will hardly suffice. You'll want to program your own behaviors. For that, there's the AmigoColbert programming language. It's pretty intimidating, especially compared with that of other consumer robots, such as Lego's MindStorms. Educators may find it a useful tool for teaching programming, but most casual users won't have the patience to bother. And when you consider the beefy yet useless documentation, this is far from a user-friendly environment for the first-time programmer.
In fact, despite its name, the AmigoBot is anything but simpatico, not to mention the downright unfriendly $3,095 list price. For your money, you'll waste countless hours troubleshooting the numerous glitches. There may not be another programmable robot with eight sonar sensors out there, but the AmigoBot requires such a high degree of computer savvy and patience that it is clearly not worth the price.