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article imageNew software allows robots to be operated through VR

By Tim Sandle     Dec 15, 2017 in Technology
Brown University technologists have developed software that enables users control robots over the Internet using standard a virtual reality hardware interface.
Although autonomous robots can undertake a range of specialist tasks, circumstances remain when a human operator is required. Example include diffusing explosives; working with radioactive material; and out in space.
Controlling a robot is not an easy task (often robots are controlled via keyboards). Making robot control and operability easier was the motivation behind the recent Brown University research. To address the complexities of robot control, technologists at the university developed new software that allows a user to operate a robot remotely using a virtual reality headset. Here the user becomes immersed in a robot's surroundings. In trials robots can be successfully operated by users many miles away.
The process works through the software connecting to a robot's arms and grippers; the software can also access sensors and optics located inside the robot. The images are seen using standard virtual reality hardware, with the images viewed from the Internet. The Internet acts as the means for data flow between the virtual reality headset and the robot.
This set-up allows the operator to use a robot to carry out intricate manipulation tasks through movement of the user’s own body. An example of the control system and use of the robot can be seen in the following video:
For this trial the researchers used a system called HTC Vive, which is a virtual reality system that comes with hand controllers. This software makes use of the robot's sensors in order to create a point-cloud model of the robot itself together with its surroundings. Via a headset users can visualize that space in the headset and virtually walk around inside it, enabling robot function.
The system remains in development; in the meantime the researchers have made the software freely available for all via the Internet.
More about Robots, Robotics, Virtual reality, Internet
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