Matt Walker lives in San Jose while his 9- and 7-year-old sons live all the way in Brisbane, Australia with their mom. In spite of the long distance borne out of Walker and his first wife Sharon's divorce, he still wanted to be present for his children so he built a telepresence robot that works with a smartphone.
Walker calls it the Ramblebot and it is like a video conference machine on wheels. Controlling the robot using an application, he can follow his sons if they want to go to another room instead of having them sit in front of a computer for extended periods of time. He can even play hide and seek with them with the robot.
"Telepresence will never be as good as being there in real life [...] It's robots! They don't think about how weird it is, they just think it's cool," Walker says.
Walker's ex-wife found the idea ridiculous at first but she has since warmed up to it when she saw that Matt was making an effort to be there for their kids, especially their 7-year-old who was diagnosed with autism and has shown progress in making direct eye contact since Matt introduced Ramblebot.
"You have to be open to making it work, but really, when the motivation of both parents is the children's happiness, then usually you can get to that place," Sharon says.
Walker has introduced improvements to his Ramblebot and it now comes in a variety of designs which he sells online. There is the miniature PuckBot for $59, the standard Ramblebot for $199, a Ramblebot with an arm and gripper for $248 and a tall Ramblebot — for those who don't like being small and need to compensate for their height — at $299.
Walker is also considering Virtual Reality by making use of an Oculus Rift headset.