Depending on how you look at it, Tachi Lab (a department of Tokyo University) is home to either some insane scientists or some really cool people. Skimming over their project list reveals technology for optic camouflage, 3d displays using spinning mirrors, ultra-sensitive touchscreen control, and a new form of computer interface that requires people to implant electrodes into their fingertips.
Naturally I was excited to learn of their robotics project, the Telesar (TELE-existence Surrogate Anthropomorphic Robot). The researchers at Tachi Lab believe that one of the most important elements of human interaction is the sense of presence. They’ve previously developed a cylindrical capsule that spins at high velocities to create true, 360 degree panoramic stereoscopic 3d in order to simulate presence, delightfully called the Twister.
The Telesar2 takes a different approach, working a bit like a webcam with arms. Basically, it allows you to control a robot remotely, and projects a video feed of your upper body onto that of the robot. Meanwhile, a camera in the robot is sending video to a head-mounted visor or multi-screen set-up giving you the robot’s point of view. This allows you to interact with someone not only through your voice and on video, but also with a physical presence in the environment that could shake hands, handle objects, and perhaps move around (though this model doesn’t have a mobile base).
Particularly cool is the haptic (tactile) feedback in the hand controls, which restrict the movement of your fingers based on the robot’s hand when it holds something, simulating the feeling that you are actually holding a solid object. One somewhat tricky thing that springs to mind about telepresence robots is the notion of someone committing a crime through one. This isn’t so much an issue right now, but if these sorts of robots become ubiquitous at some point in the future it could become a major problem. Scientists have already warned about potential dangers posed by commercially available bots like Wowwee Robots’ Rovio.
Impress Robot Watch