Disney Research Shows Us How Lifelike a VR-Operated Robot Can Be

by Az Balabanian • May 16th, 2016

Teleportation has always been a dream that seems too far off in the future to care, fortunately VR has given us the tools for transporting our consciousness to far off places.

Last week, researchers from Disney Research, Carnegie Mellon, and Northeastern University published a paper on fluid joint movement in robots by developing “a new type of hydrostatic transmission that uses a hybrid air-water configuration”, they’ve created a silent and strong joint with scalable degrees-of-freedom.

By applying their invention into a humanoid robot, they created something called “Human Safe Haptic Telepresence Robot”. The video shows a human-controlled telepresence robot interacting with xylophones, eggs, and a child with such delicacy, even going as far as tapping the child on her cheeks.

The robot is also equipped with two independent cameras which feed to each eye in the operator’s VR headset. The reason for using an HMD over a computer monitor is because not only does the operator have greater “teleported” presence, but also has real depth perception to carefully handle things like eggs.

It’s amazing how the robot operator’s personality and body language can translate through just by having his head and hands tracked. This opens up huge room for innovation in telecommunications, which is currently tied to explicit forms of expressing emotion, like emojis.

Telepresence robots have a wide potential to be a part of our lives in the near future, with NASA working on creating intuitive humanoid robots to control from Earth, to FOVE sending robot avatars to important events for bedridden family members. Telepresence robots like Beam already exist on the market, but they offer little more than a moving screen on a segway.

Science Fiction has had us focused on achieving real teleportation, but maybe we’ve been approaching the problem in a too literal way. Instead of trying to teleport your mind and body, VR and telepresence achieve a similar result in a cost-effective and achievable way. VR transports your mind, and downloads your presence into a robot that acts as your avatar. Much like Bruce Willis in Surrogates, I’ll be looking forward to being present across the world (or solar system) instantaneously without having to sacrifice time.

But until then, we’ll sit back and quietly chuckle as robots fail at trying to do human things like blocking a soccer ball.

 

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