Two of the SIGGRAPH 2012 Emerging Technologies exhibits featured robots. Both attempt to convey a lifelike presence: one, driven by a human being, the other, autonomous.
TELESAR V is a robot guided by and experienced by a remote operator. On first blush, the operator is capable of seeing what the robot sees through a HMD, and is also able to execute precision motion of the fingers and limbs through tracking from a mounted array of IR sensors. But, what is curious about the setup is that the operator is able to feel what the robot feels, which adds to the robot’s ability to execute precision motion.
Shaking the robot’s hand, one can feel the metallic parts, beneath the grip of a firm handshake, in a loose, waving motion. The remote operator on the other side of the booth confirms, with a microphone-amplified voice.
Charith Fernando, a researcher on the TELESAR team, explained that the robot could soon be used commercially for telepresence, “We plan to use this for the travel industry. This would be a new way of tourism.”
Preston Smith, Emerging Technologies subcommittee chair further expounds on the extension of remote presence, “Imagine being able to remotely perform some task, but also being able to feel the task that is being performed. The future applications are endless in the entertainment, science, or medical fields.”
TELESAR is a fifth generational robot that has been in development since 1980.
When walking into the Stuffed Toys Alive! booth, one sees a few stuffed bears next to “Hug Me” signs.
Appearing innoculous, the frizzled stuffed animals are actually augmented internally by a mechanical network of limbs. The stuffed animal compresses its arms and legs inwards, holding onto the bearer in a gentle hug. The motion is slow, the artificial life further betrayed by the sounds of whirling parts. Squeezing harder on its paws and legs, one can feel the thin metal joints that guide the motion.
The instantaneous response from the human is usually that of surprise or belief-revulsion — it’s a non-lifelike object suddenly behaving in a very lifelike-manner. Attendees who dropped by the booth often scream, “It’s alive!”
Surprisingly, the mechanical hug has the overall effect of warmth that one would expect from an embrace from a living animal. The difference is that this gesture is from a purely autonomous machine — and yet, it still feels real.