If you are used to quadrotors doing menacing things like surveillance or flying though open windows, then meet Joggobot - your friendly jogging buddy.
Quadrotors have been used for some strange things from construction tasks to spying, but what about as a pace maker for jogging or even for more serious running. This is the new idea from Exertion Games Lab.
It is only an experiment at the moment, but as it uses off- the-shelf hardware - in the form of an AR Drone at about $200 - it could make the transition to a product very easily. The drone has a video camera and some AI software processes the image to locate a colored pattern on the runner's T shirt - see the picture. Once the runner is located then drone can then fly a few yards ahead in a game of perpetual "can't catch me".
You can see the basic operation in the video:
If the drone loses track of the T-shirt, then it simply powers down. The idea is that it is supposed to be your personal trainer. Currently there is a lot of debate about the height at which it should fly. High suggests authority and lower, well more like a pet dog you can ignore. There are also some questions of keeping the runner tracked - flying ahead of the runner means that you have to predict the path.
You can see a slightly more "popular" introduction to the Joggobot in a recent ABC TV report:
Personally I still think it's spooky and I'm not sure I'd respond well to it following me around from the front, if you see what I mean. Some suggestions have been made in the I Programmer office about it needing a loudspeaker and voice synth to shout encouragement (aka threats) to keep me running. Perhaps a slight weaponization to include a water pistol or paint gun would work better.
My own idea was to make it carry my mobile phone and perhaps stream my favourite music via blue tooth, and perhaps a cool drink, and...
There are still a lot of application areas to be explored for autonomous robotic pals. A jogging companion may just be the start and there's all that software to write to make them seem human and completely non-threatening.