Maker-Led Charity Aims to Bring the World to the Bedbound with Open Source Telepresence Robots

Suffering from Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME/CFS), maker Dejan hopes to bring newfound freedom to as many people as possible.

Pseudonymous maker Dejan has turned to an open source, Raspberry Pi-powered telepresence robot to interact with family and friends after becoming bedbound — and is looking to set up a charity to help others do the same.

"I'm severely ill from Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME/CFS). A controversial treatment called 'Graded Exercise Therapy' made me mostly bedridden, and left me only dreaming of the outside world," Dejan explains. "I use robots similar to the one shown to visit family and friends."

"Recently i watched my dad getting remarried through such a robot. I see these robots as a big win in quality of life, even if it makes me tear up just writing this. Some people from the Hackerspace community approached me and are currently helping setting up a charity project to make such robots more accessible and affordable for ME/CFS — and hopefully later - all chronically ill people!"

Maker Dejan is looking to bring telepresence robots to ME/CFS sufferers through a new charity. (📹: Dejan)

The robot in question is a modified variant of the Vigibot, an open source robot designed to be driven by a Raspberry Pi single-board computer. "The robot contains a raspberry Pi 3 [Model] A+, uses a Geekworm v3 UPS with a 1S 7Ah Li-ion battery," Dejan writes. "This combo makes it last about 6h with occasional use. It has a fixed wide angle front camera with two white LED lights on either side.

"The propulsion consists of 4x N20 Pololu motors (I'm not sure about the gear ratio, probably 1:75?) with 60mm wheels giving it a surprisingly high speed. There's also a microphone to hear what's happening around the robot and a speaker for Text-To-Speech (TTS) messages. TTS works well because that's easier to handle for many bedridden people than real time voice messages, what would essentially be a phone call."

To build a full-spec Vigibot costs around €450, Dejan notes, which is likely out of the reach of those who could benefit most. The solution: A charity, dubbed Botkins. "We are looking for: Makers willing to build robots (volunteer or for a fixed fee); donations in all amounts in order to pay for the materials and compensate makers; housebound or bedridden people interested in a robot; workshop leaders."

The project is being organised via a Hackaday project page, which has already attracted the attention of noted maker Mitch Altman — inventor of the TV-B-Gone gadget and co-founder of San Francisco's Noisebridge hackerspace.

Additional detail can be found in Dejan's Reddit post.

Gareth Halfacree
Freelance journalist, technical author, hacker, tinkerer, erstwhile sysadmin. For hire:
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