Prototype Backpack Features Robotic Limbs Controlled Remotely In VR

Project Fusion’s VR-controlled robot arms could revolutionize remote collaboration.

As part of an ongoing effort to create a real-life Dr. Octopus, researchers at Keio University’s Graduate School of Media Design in Tokyo, Japan have developed a specialized backpack device that includes a pair of robotic arms.

Lead by University assistant professor Yamen Saraiji in collaboration with colleagues at Keio University and the University of Tokyo, the project, referred to as Fusion, centers around a custom PC backpack capable of transferring data wirelessly from the mechanical limbs to a remote individual. Using an Oculus Rift headset and a pair of motion controllers, that separate user can then operate the mechanical arms entirely in VR.

A wireless camera strategically mounted over the shoulder of the backpack gives VR operators a first-person perspective of the wearer. Sensors embedded in the camera track the wearers head and mimics their movements, including tilting up or down, turning left to right, and even pivoting side-to-side.

A PC-connected microcontroller than positions the arms and hands while applying torque to seven available joints. Various buttons on the Oculus controllers allow operators to move the pinky, middle, and ring fingers simultaneously. The index finger and thumb, however, each have their own dedicated inputs. For solo control, the device can also utilize a set of straps that allow the backpack-wearer full control over the mechanized limbs without the need of a remote operator.

While the Fusion backpack is still very much in the prototype stage, the device has already garnered plenty of attention from established researchers. Hermano Igo Krebs, a principal research scientist at MIT specializing in rehabilitation robotics, could see this technology potentialy assisting astronauts working in the extreme conditions of space, paramedics unfamiliar with particular medical procedures, and various other professionals who find themselves in scenarios where an extra set of hands could come in handy.

Saraiji is currently in the process of turning the impressive device into a marketable product, with he and his collaborators already in talks with a Tokyo startup accelerator.

Saraiji and his team will show off more of their groundbreaking project at this years SIGGRAPH event in Vancouver, Canada August 12 -16.

Image Credit: Keio University Graduate School of Media Design / the University of Tokyo

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Former Writer (Kyle Melnick)

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