Friday, November 11, 2011

Your Robotic Stand-In

Does this Robot Avatar make me look nerdy?

What if we could safely send experts in to a damaged nuclear plant after a disaster to quickly assess the situation and respond? What if we could safely recover wounded soldiers from an active, dangerous battlefield? Doing what needs to be done often takes specific expertise, but the danger of the situation can make it difficult to choose to risk more human life.

This week, Wired reported on work being done at Keio University in Tokyo to create robotic avatars that are not only motion-controlled by a human, but also allow a level of human interaction with the environment that up until now has not been possible. Sight, sound and touch are all transmitted back to the human controlling the robotic avatar. Imagine controlling a robot's arms, legs, wrists and fingers, seeing what it sees, hearing what it hears, even when very remote.

This isn't quite the sci-fi world of Surrogates yet, though every article on this telexistance robot is followed by many comments making that connection. This prototype moves slowly and without much subtlety, and it doesn't pretend to achieve lifelike beauty. It doesn't even walk yet – though other robots do, and there's no reason those technologies couldn't be combined.

Will it ever become common to use robots as our avatar surrogates in dangerous situations or to experience remote locations? Is there some role for them in giving a kind of mobility to the disabled? Do you think the Surrogates future is around the corner? Leave a comment and let us know what you think!


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