Claimed to be a world first, the project was a collaboration between Shadow Robot Company, SynTouch, HaptX, and the Japanese parent company of All Nippon Airways, ANA Holdings. It involved an operator in California using a motion-capture haptic glove whose movements were mirrored by a robotic hand in London. As the hand performed a variety of tasks such as typing, playing Jenga and moving chess pieces, haptic feedback was transmitted to the operator thousands of miles away in California.
According to its developers, the system could be used for remote operation applications such as bomb disposal and nuclear decommissioning, where human proximity to the task is risky. Other potential applications include pharmaceutical manufacture and clean rooms where humans can contaminate the environment. It’s also claimed the system could play a key role in immersive interactive experiences where – combined with virtual reality or robots transmitting from distant worlds – users would be able to touch and feel remote surroundings as well as experience their sights and sounds.
“This teleoperation system lets humans and robots share their sense of touch across the globe - it’s a step ahead in what can be felt and done remotely,” said Rich Walker, managing director of Shadow Robot Company. “We can now deliver remote touch and dexterity for people to build on for applications like safeguarding people from hazardous tasks, or just doing a job without having to fly there!”
According to ANA Holdings, its single objective is to pioneer real-world avatar technology to connect and positively impact the world. The demonstration was funded and facilitated by ANA as part of the company’s global Avatar initiative, which also includes backing a $10m dollar Avatar XPrize. Underway since March 2019, the four-year competition aims to encourage the first wave of avatar technology that enables immersive teleoperation for humans where they can see, hear, and interact within a remote environment as if they were physically present.
"This achievement by Shadow Robot, SynTouch, and HaptX marks a significant milestone towards achieving the mission of Avatar X," said Kevin Kajitani, co-director of ANA Avatar, a subsidiary of ANA Holdings. "This prototype paves the way for industry use, including medicine, construction, travel, and space exploration."