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VR-controlled robots like this may work in factories of the future

Anyone who has seen Pacific Rim will get the concept.

Robots have long been replacing factory workers, but in the future, they may work together in a whole new way.

Massachusetts Institue of Technology’s (MIT) Computer Science and Artificial Lab (CSAIL) has paired robotics with Virtual Reality (VR) for something called ‘telepresence’.

The team at CSAIL used an industrial robot called Baxter which they previously had people control using their brains.

This time Baxter is being matched with Oculus Rift VR to allow humans a chance to wear the so-called “mech suit” often seen in science fiction.

Through VR, a user of the system feels as if they are in the robot’s head by seeing a simplified copy of the robot’s environment.

The researchers chose not to show the user exactly what the robot sees because it requires much more data, may cause lag and could give the user nausea.

The system is based on the “homunculus” concept of the mind, which is the idea that there’s a small human controlling our actions from inside our brain. If you are looking for another movie reference, think Inside Out.

There are also hand controls which allow the user to manipulate the robot’s arms as needed.

The applications of telepresence are extremely useful.

It will potentially allow factory workers to work from home or at distance and will be handy for dangerous environments such as mines or oil rigs.

It could also help people with disabilities or those who lack the physical strength to perform certain tasks.

CSAIL scientists will continue working on the project and plan to test it with more users and different types of robots.

“This contribution represents a major milestone in the effort to connect the user with the robot’s space in an intuitive, natural, and effective manner,” computer science professor at Stanford University Oussama Khatib told Science Daily.

Hopefully, the team at MIT can get the technology fully functioning for when a portal opens and Kaiju begin to ravage the Earth. Oh, wait – that’s Pacific Rim again.

About the author

Stefan is an Adelaide-based freelance writer. In his spare time, he plays tennis badly, collects vinyl and brushes up on his Mandarin. Follow Stefan on Twitter

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