Researchers at Keio University’s Graduate School of Media Design in Japan, who specialize in engineering and research design have built a robot that is eerily reminiscent of characters in the movie Avatar. According to the AFP newswire, (via Channelnewsasia) the robot is connected to a person who is not only able to control the robot remotely, but can also see, hear and feel data coming to them from the robot, who is currently called Telesar V.
According to Wired magazine, the operator wears a helmet fitted with small screens in front of the eyes to allow them to see what the cameras affixed to the eye positions of the robot are pointing at. Likewise, built in headphones allow the operator to hear what the robot hears and special gloves with sensors built in, to allow the operator to actually feel what the robot feels. And it works in reverse as well. To turn the robot’s head for example, the operator need only turn his or hers; similarly to walk the operator need only start walking, or to move its arms and legs, to do likewise with their own. In short, the robots actions mimic those of the operator. Those interested can watch a video of Telesar V in action.
The whole idea the researchers say, in an interview with the AFP, is allow a human being to experience as fully as possible, a separated, remote environment. The most immediate use for such a robot would of course be to go into areas that are too dangerous for people, such as a nuclear reactor that is having problems. Looking to the future however, it seems conceivable that NASA might wish to one day send such a robot to a far off planet, rather than a human being because it would cost considerably less, while still affording those who wear the operator suit, some degree of the same experience they would have had they traveled there instead.
One of the key components of the new system is the gloves, as most of the rest of the technology is but a collection of those that already exist, packed together in one package. Each has several thousand sensors in it that collect different kinds of sensory data sent from the “hands” of the robot. This makes it possible for the operator to discern different textures for example, or to feel differences in heat, or even pressure. According to researchers in the interview, wearing the gloves makes them feel like they have become a part of the robot, or vice-versa. Once again, echoes of Avatar arise, and that may or may not be a good thing.