© keio university/university of tokyo

Remote-controlled robot cuddles are here

Development of the robotic arms controlled remotely using VR could be used for instruction or physical therapy.

You’ll soon be able to get cuddles from loved ones overseas, even if they are a little cold and pointy. Researchers from Keio University and the University of Tokyo have developed a robot that can be worn as a backpack and operated by someone else who is wearing a virtual reality headset and handheld controllers.

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The arms could give you a hug or a high five. Alternatively, you could attach the robot’s wrists to your own, allowing the person wearing the VR headset and handheld controllers to manipulate your arms, a feature that could be used for instruction or physical therapy. Although this isn’t the only time researchers have given people extra arms, these are the first to be controlled by a remote operator using VR.

The robot is linked to a backpack PC that wirelessly streams data between the wearer and the operator. As well as the two robotic limbs, a robot head with two cameras peers over the wearer’s shoulder, showing the operator what’s going on. When the operator moves their head while wearing the VR headset, the robot head moves in response.

Though this is just a prototype, the researchers are working on turning it into a product, and exploring its potential uses. Meanwhile, we’re eagerly awaiting our first remote robot golf lesson.

This is an extract from issue 327 of BBC Focus magazine.

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