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Project Intends to Put a Tiny Robotic Surrogate on Your Shoulder


How many of us have been walking around and thought, “boy, it sure would be nice if I could share this moment with my friend represented as a tiny robotic buddy on my shoulder?” Oh, no one? Well, then you probably won’t have much in common with researchers at Yamagata University. They’re working to build a miniature humanoid that could one day let a robotic version of your pal sit on your shoulder and point at things. 

The project, called MH-2, still has a long way to go before the photoshopped dream on the right is realized. The end goal is to provide a tool for seamless telepresence, giving a remote viewer an immersive experience and a robot body to interact naturally with the world. While the robot sits on your shoulder and sees what you see, your pal sits inside an immersive 3D environment, controlling the robot with a motion tracking system, like the Kinect.

At least, that’s the end goal. Currently, it exists as a small robotic head and torso connected to 22 actuators and a backpack. The backpack presumably contains all of the computer hardware and power supply for the MH-2, and certainly seems more than a little cumbersome. For its part, the robot portions has dual cameras — for sterescopic 3D imaging — mounted on either side of a moving head. The hands and arms can also move, with the goal of providing more lifelike interaction. It also has a moving chest plate to simulate breathing, because if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing creepily.

Though the robot is interesting, it’s a long, long way from providing the kind of natural interaction it’s shooting for. Also, the team hasn’t demonstrated the user end of the robot surrogate, with its 3D interface and motion tracking. To me, that seems like the most interesting part of the project. People have been trying to share their experiences in real time through the channels available to them — tweets, video, pictures, etc. — but it’s hardly immersive.

We’ll just have to see where the development of the MH-2 ends up, and if the frighteningly propthetic vision of the Arrested Development surrogate finally comes to pass.

(via IEEE Spectrum)

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