Communication tools are more vital than ever as social distancing and isolation help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Marc DeVidts and David Cann of Double Robotics invented their telepresence videoconferencing robot to provide companies, schools, and even surgeons a seamless ability to act as the operator’s “body double,” thereby enabling a deeper connection to their colleagues, fellow students, and patients by giving them a physical presence when they can’t be there in person.
Little did they know how critical their invention would become during the worldwide Coronavirus pandemic in 2020.
Now the self-driving, two-wheeled robot operated via an iPad is helping doctors and nurses deliver medical care and connecting loved ones with family members in isolation or quarantine. Hospitals and nursing homes are increasingly using the Double 3 robot to provide patient visits without fear of spreading the coronavirus. The company has been seeing a surge in orders as coronavirus fears ramp up across the country.
Double Robotics is building units as fast as they can. A pretty grand chapter in a story that begins like those of many start-ups.
From a very early age, DeVidts was always taking things apart, such as TVs, VCRs, and computers, which drove his mother crazy, though she supported him (as long as he didn’t kill himself). However, there was no shop class in his college-prep high school, let alone a STEM program for a kid with a high aptitude for engineering.
Fortunately, at age 17, he happened upon BattleBots, the TV show that promotes building cool robots and competing against other people’s cool robots, all while advocating the engineering behind it all. He knew that he had found his life’s path. To fund his passion, he began to earn money to build robots and compete on BattleBots, where he got to know and learn from the hundreds of helpful engineers in the robot community.
DeVidts was inspired to up his game by learning from these super-smart engineers—some from NASA—at BattleBots competitions. Building robots for an event involves more than design and engineering skills; builders must learn project management as well as event and logistics planning. Plus, most participants must raise funds and attract sponsors to buy the expensive components needed to realize their designs.
Fuel the Fire
When Hurricane Katrina shut down the college DeVidts was attending, he had time to reflect on what he was not learning at school. He needed to fuel his passion, so he refocused with a job in software programming in Miami while continuing to connect with new people at BattleBots competitions.
When he connected with someone from a medical device company that needed a software guy to bridge the gap between hardware and software, he found an environment where he could learn. Among other skills, he learned 3D printing and CNC machining, and was challenged to build with freedom.
DeVidts happened to meet David Cann in Miami at a BattleBots event. They learned they had great synergy: DeVidts with hardware (electrical/embedded systems engineering) and Cann with software (design and iOS development). They co-founded a start-up Double Robotics with the mission of developing robots with a seamless user experience.
Discovering the Need
Initially, their goal was to create the next big thing in the toy industry. They found, however, when doing contract work with remote customers and setting up manufacturing overseas that they needed a better communication tool than what was available with Skype and FaceTime. Telepresence robots existed, but they cost $17,000—far more than a two-person startup with no funding could afford, so they set out to make a better and more affordable communication tool.
They amplified their engineering skills by using the iPad as the brains of the robot and designing the prototype in SOLIDWORKS®, which helped accelerate the design process. They drove their prototype around outside an Apple conference “to get some attention.” Eventually, they ended up getting phone calls from Fortune 500 companies wanting their invention.
Product to Market
Double Robotics began shipping in May 2013. The company continually improves and innovates its mechanical design elements and electronics to meet its customers’ needs and to stay ahead of the competition.
The most recent robot iteration, Double 3, comes with a built-in tablet screen and has enough sensors that users can just point and click where they want to go within the robot’s field of vision. The Double 3 will glide on over, avoiding objects and edges along the way.
To achieve their design goals and meet project schedules, the mechanical and electronic design teams regularly collaborate on design intent and critical design changes to ensure the correct form and fit of the electronics systems and mechanical housing. “SOLIDWORKS was our first choice for software look to rapidly iterate on our designs,” says DeVidts.
Most product design workflows separate or segment electronics and mechanical design software, making this type of ECAD-MCAD collaboration challenging. Double Robotics implemented SOLIDWORKS PCB to create an intelligent, seamless, collaborative environment that eliminates the communication gap between electronics and mechanical teams and significantly improves its ECAD-MCAD workflow while saving time and money.
“We are really excited to have SOLIDWORKS PCB where we can collaborate with SOLIDWORKS mechanical bringing the electrical engineers into the equation.” DeVidts continues: “That collaboration between the mechanical and electrical amplifies what you’re able to do….”
A Solution for the Times
What started as a toy company became a telepresence videoconferencing robot company that now, among other things, helps families and doctors connect with those severely ailing from the novel coronavirus who would otherwise not be able to talk to or see their family.
“We’re excited about the future of SOLIDWORKS and the path that they’re taking to bring the whole experience together into one piece of software,” concludes DeVidts.