Avatar Robots Let Users Feel What They Feel
Whether they’re RC Cars spinning around in your driveway, or NASA’s Rovers crossing a Martian landscape millions of miles away, remote controlled robotics are nothing new. But imagine what scientists could discover if the rovers allowed them to experience Mars as if they were really there. For the first time a team of researchers at Keio University’s Tachi Lab in Tokyo have invented a system that lets a human operator feel what a remote controlled robot is touching.
The TELESAR V is the fifth generation of TELExistence Surrogate Anthropomorphic Robots created by Prof. Susumu Tachi, who came up with the idea for telexistence back in 1980. He proposes that telexistence is a system that would let people have “a highly realistic sensation of existence in a remote place without any actual travel.” That is, a robot like TELESAR V is in somewhere like the top of Mt. Everest, and a human is somewhere else safe and warm and probably not exhausted.
While, as advanced as TELESAR V is, we still have a way to go before Prof. Tachi’s dream is realized. That said, the system is pretty amazing as it stands. According to the Tachi Lab website:
With human-like movements in the upper body, arm and hands in TELESAR V, and ability to see, hear, feel the haptic sensation at the same time in a different location, enables the operator to experience the out-of-body illusion.
The person controlling TELESAR V wears a virtual reality headset and gloves so they can ‘see’ whatever the robot sees. When they move their arms, the robot moves its arms. Of course, the reason why TELESAR V is such a huge step is that when the robot’s fingers touch an object the operator can ‘feel’ the shape of the object.
How this works is that each of TELESAR V’s fingertips is a small camera covered in a soft material filled with gel and thermochromic ink (the stuff in mood rings that changes color with temperature shifts). When these gel-fingertips are pressed the ink becomes visibly denser so that the cameras can see where a human finger would be feeling an object. Finally a pair of special gloves recreate that pressure on the operator’s fingertips, and completing the “out-of-body illusion” of telexistence.
Preston Smith, SIGGRAPH 2012 Emerging Technologies Chair from Laureate Institute for Brain Research, noted in his feedback following TELESAR V’s debut that:
Historically, robots have always been a popular Emerging Technologies attraction. This trend continues with the intriguing robotic presence of TELESAR V, a fifth generation robot that gives the user both the control of the robot and the experience that the robot is going through. Imagine being able to remotely perform some task, but also being able to feel the task that is being performed. The future applications are endless in the entertainment, science, or medical fields.
Watch the following video for more information on Tachi Lab and the evolution of the TELESAR project: