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In MAKE Volume 16, we ran a Maker profile of Marque Cornblatt and his autonomous telepresence robot, Sparky 2. In Marque’s own words, from the profile:

In the early 90s, I began building a wireless, rolling, remote control robot with a two-way video chat setup positioned at eye level, which enabled real-time, face-to-face communication. I found most of the materials dumpster diving or at garage sales: a motorized wheelchair, a few old video cameras, a wireless baby monitor, some R/C toys. Separately these were junk, but combined they became an interactive sculpture that allowed me to see, hear, chat, and move through a remote location with complete autonomy.

I could “become” my creation, temporarily merging my own identity into that of this machine/human hybrid. I named the robot SPARC-I, a rough acronym for Self-Portrait Artifact — Roving Chassis, or Sparky for short.

I originally made Sparky to explore the boundaries of the body and how our identities change when filtered through technology, topics that have recently become hot in our age of online profiles and avatars. I’ve been upgrading Sparky ever since, as newer technologies have become available. Over the years the Sparky experience has developed into what I call Autonomous Telepresence, an experience combining remote sensing and locomotion, web video, social networking, and human interaction.
It is interesting to watch Sparky “work the room” at an art opening or cocktail party. At first, people are drawn to the robot as a techno-spectacle. But it is remarkable how quickly people forget the machine and interact with the remote person, joking, flirting, or having long, deep conversations as if there were nothing unusual.

Being a maker first and a businessman second, Marque eventually decided to share Sparky 2 as an open source DIY project, based on the MAKE Controller. Marque’s set of plans for Sparky 2, along with a step-by-step video are freely available on the project page and on Marque’s site, Gomi Style, so you can build your own.

Marque has brought Sparky to all 3 previous Maker Faires we’ve hosted in the Bay Area, and this year, he is bringing Sparky Jr., a new version powered by Skype, Roomba, and Mac Mini:

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Here’s a great little teaser video Marque put together giving you some insight into Sparky Jr.:

There’s also a Ning network for Sparky Jr. with the tagline, “DIY, open source, mobile telepresence for all.” Mobile telepresence for the masses!

Read Marque’s article in MAKE 16 (shared here in our Digital Edition), check out the Gomi Style site, join the Ning Sparky network, get your Maker Faire tickets (while you can still get advanced price tix before May 20th), and be sure to come say hi to Sparky Jr. at the Faire on May 30th and 31st!