The Japanese Science and Technology Agency (JST) and Keio University’s Tachi Lab presented their newest telexistence system, the TELESAR V, at SIGGRAPH 2012 Emerging Technologies. The avatar system’s ability to relay tactile sensation has improved since its original reveal in November 2011. In a world first, a human operator can now distinguish if the robot is handling cloth or paper by touch alone.
Of course, the operator gets much more than just tactile feedback as part of the experience, as a head-mounted display provides a high-definition wide-angle view from the robot’s perspective, along with stereo sound. The robot avatar’s body has a total of 54 degrees of freedom (head x3, trunk x5, two arms x7, two hands (and fingers) x16) which allow it to accurately mimic the operator’s movements (using a motion-capture system).
The TELESAR V’s hands and fingers are equipped with a number of sensors to capture and relay tactile information to its operator through special gloves. The primary sensor inside each fingertip is a vision-based force sensor which is comprised of a wide-angle camera that looks through a gel-layer mixed with thermochromic ink. When the gel compresses, the thermochromic ink becomes denser, which the camera interprets as force information.
Microphones underneath the robot’s fingertips convert low to mid level vibrations; when pouring marbles from one cup to another (as the robot), the operator feels the tactile sensation from doing so. Furthermore, the operator is able to sense changes in temperature at the robot’s fingertips, thanks to thermoelectric peltier devices which reproduce warm and cold temperature inside the operator’s gloves. Now even an object’s texture can be relayed to the operator.
The TELESAR V system overview
Ideally, the robot’s hands and fingers would be as sensitive as the real thing, and recent breakthroughs suggest we may not be that far off. Normally, just cramming all the sensors and feedback devices into a volume the size of a human fingertip has been a major problem. But the TELESAR V’s haptic controls provide enough precision and feedback to accurately pick and place small objects.
Operators extracted straws from a jumble, moved Shogi (Japanese chess) pieces on a cluttered game board, and felt the brushing sensation of a Lego block as it moved across the robot’s fingertips. In addition to earlier systems, the operator’s freedom has been expanded to allow them to bend and lean their upper body and have those movements mirrored by the robot.
When you add it all up, the TELESAR V system is probably the most sophisticated of its kind in the world today and has the potential for many practical applications. It is exactly this kind of system that will enable humanoid robots to perform complex tasks in hazardous environments, though it will take a second operator to control a robot’s lower body.
Check out this cool concept artwork of future TELESAR systems
Teams competing in DARPA’s Robotics Challenge are likely salivating over such a system as they try to devise their own. In fact, it was Prof. Susumu Tachi (the director of Tachi Lab and this project) that worked on the teleoperation system of the Centaur robot designed for use in nuclear plants back in the ’80s. As the world’s leading scientist in telexistence and telepresence robots, we have covered some of his lab’s earlier telexistence robots before (see TELESAR, TELESAR 2, TELESAR 4).
Another video and more photos can be found after the break.
Video (November 2011):