Nik Ivanov's Watney Raspberry Pi Telepresence Robot Gets an Overhaul: Meet Watney 3.0

Fully open source and fully 3D-printable, this dinky robot provides low-latency video and bidirectional audio anywhere.

The Watney project, an open source telepresence robot featuring a 3D-printed chassis and a Raspberry Pi controller, is back with a brand new design — and it looks to be the last in its line.

The Watney rover started life as a simple line-following robot created by Nik Ivanov for a hack-day project at work. From there, the concept grew: The version of Watney unveiled four years ago boasted an on-board camera and remote control capabilities courtesy of a Raspberry Pi Zero W; two years after that a redesign upgraded the camera, the chassis, and added wireless charging capabilities for complete remote functionality — ideal for use as a telepresence robot.

Nik Ivanov's Watney rover is back with a new, smaller chassis for a sleeker take on telepresence robots. (📹: Nik Ivanov)

Now Watney's back with another redesign — and it's looking like it'll be the project's last, at least on the hardware front. "I'm not planning on adding new hardware iterations," Ivanov explains, "as the latest version accomplishes everything I've envisioned for this project. That being said, there are still some software improvements to be made."

Like its predecessor, the latest Watney design is wholly 3D-printed bar its electronics. On that front, the latest model is built around the compact Raspberry Pi 3 Model A+ — though, given the similarity in performance, a Raspberry Pi Zero 2 W could also be used if the housing design is suitably modified - with four N20 200 RPM motors, a GeeekPi UPS add-on for on-the-go power, an I2S amplifier, 40mm full-range speaker, and I2S microphone, plus a MIPI CSI camera module fitted with fish-eye lens.

For those who have already put together an earlier Watney, there's good news: "You can reuse a lot of components from the old Watney in the new design," Ivanov claims, though the new model is noticeably smaller. On the software side, the rover uses GStreamer and the Janus WebRTC server for low-latency video with bidirectional audio — and a servo on the camera allows the view to be tilted vertically.

The latest release, Watney 3.0, is available on Ivanov's GitHub repository, including an operating system image, source code, and STL files for 3D printing, all published under the reciprocal GNU General Public License 3.

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