Robot Avatar Lets People See and Feel Things Remotely

People can attend events without traveling by using a humanoid robot that can transmit touch.

Image credits: Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia

People can attend events without traveling by using a humanoid robot that can transmit touch and video sensations to an individual hundreds of kilometers away, provided they are wearing haptic feedback gloves and a virtual reality (VR) headset.

The iCub 3 robot has 54 points of movement throughout its plastic and aluminum alloy body. It weighs 52 kg and is 125 centimeters tall. Two cameras replace the eyes on its head, and an internet-connected computer sits where the brain should be. The robot's "brain" receives data from sensors all over its body in addition to the cameras. A remote human operator then dons a suit and VR headgear to simulate these sensations, reports Chris Stokel-Walker in NewScientist.

The suit's sensors detect the operator's motions in response to their senses, and the robot mimics those movements. “The key is to translate every signal and bit of numeric data that can be sent through the network,” explains Stefano Dafarra, an iCub 3 team member from the Italian Institute of Technology. The operator can reduce this by moving a little more slowly than usual. There may be a tiny delay of up to 100 milliseconds between the time the video footage is captured and transmitted.

The robot was shown off by the team during the Venice Biennale, where it navigated an exhibit while its operator watched from Genoa, 290 kilometers away.

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Dafarra anticipates that more people will utilize the iCub 3 to attend events virtually, cutting down on travel time. However, he notes that a fall may currently seriously harm the robot and that it's not sure if it could get back up on its own.

“iCub 3 is an interesting robot and offers clear advantages from the previous iteration,” says Jonathan Aitken at the University of Sheffield, UK, whose laboratory owns a prior version of the robot. However, he is disappointed that the team wasn’t clear in its research about the data transmission requirements of the new version of the robot. “It would be good to know just how much data was required, and what the upper and lower bounds were,” he says.

Sam Draper
February 26, 2024

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