This Remote Control Robot Created By Disney Can Nearly Match Human Movements
Threading a sewing needle. Delicately picking up an egg without breaking it, then pounding it after. Engaging hand and arm movements with a little girl.
All of these actions can be performed by a new remote control robot created by Disney Research. This telepresence robot is a type of hydrostatic transmission that combines a hybrid pneumatic (air-filled) and hydraulic (powered by liquid pressure) lines.
The incredible innovation allows a human operator to precisely and safely maneuver the telepresence robot, which in turn mimics human movements with exactness. The robot's transmission almost has no friction at play.
Research co-author Jessica Hodgins, a professor of robotics and vice president of Disney Research, says the robot produces a "life-like interaction" with people.
Thanks to the air and water hydraulics system, the robot experiences an instantaneous physical feedback and finer control. There are lesser number of cables running through the limbs of the robot, reducing its overall size and weight while boosting its response time and precision.
John Whitney of Northeastern University, who led the development of the robot at Disney Research, says the robotic limbs can be made smaller and lighter because of the hybrid transmission.
The new telepresence is not the first of its kind to be revealed, as the technology has been applied among robotic figures in theme parks to interact with guests. A performer that controls the robot hides nearby.
Now, with the improved remote control robot, a set of stereo cameras on its head gives real-time feedback to the human operator wearing 3D goggles. The operator can manipulate the robot without actually seeing what it is doing.
There are some limitations to the technology. The operator is not required to watch the robot in order to control it, but he must be relatively close because the controls are still directly connected to the robot through the hybrid cables.
This suggests that using this kind of system for instances such as inspecting a nuclear power plant after a meltdown might not be possible.
In the meantime, Disney Research is planning to use the telepresence robot to study interactions of humans and robots.
Hodgins says that for now, the telepresence robot will be controlled by an operator, but researchers are also planning to improve the controls.
"[W]e would expect the same level of mechanical performance once the motions are automated," adds Hodgins.
The research paper (PDF) will be presented at the IEEE Conference on Robotics and Automation in Sweden on May 17.
Watch the video below.