© A. Abrusci/D. Farina/Instituto Italiano di Tecnologia
The Italian Institute of Technology (IIT) will never cease to surprise us. After his robot imitating the growth of a plant to move, here is one of a completely different kind. The Icub project is not new, since its start dates back to 2006. It required the involvement of several European research organizations, all coordinated by the IIT. Designed to accelerate research in robotics and improve human/machine interaction, it is now in its third version. Soberly named Icub 3, it is packed with very sophisticated sensors, cameras and gloves with haptic feedback. This therefore allows its operator to control the robot remotely, to see and feel what Icub 3 has in front of him.
The revolutionary sensory capabilities of Icub 3
Icub 3 is a small size: a size equivalent to a 4 year old child and a featherweight of 42 kg. Even though he doesn't have the agility of Atlas, his talents lie elsewhere. It has 54 points of articulation, eye cameras and touch sensors judiciously distributed throughout its body. This allows it to collect a large amount of data about its environment in real time.
This set of data (images, tactile information) are recovered by an operator located remotely from the robot, equipped with a virtual reality headset and gloves with haptic feedback . Thus, it can perceive the environment of the robot in total immersion and feel what the Icub 3 sensors perceive. Thanks to this fairly advanced technological integration, the robot can be controlled remotely very precisely.
He can also control the robot's facial expressions, thereby implying an emotional dimension stronger in the interaction between the operator and Icub 3.
Possibilities for remote interactions
An experiment was carried out at the Venice Biennale, during which an operator controlled Icub 3 while& ;#8217;it was located 290 km away. He was thus able to wander around the exhibition premises as if he were really there.
All the operator's movements were captured, then faithfully reproduced by Icub 3. This almost allows the latter to physically replace a person in a specific place.
An article published in the journal Science Robotics details this experiment and the particularities of this completely innovative technology. We can also see Icub 3 at work in this video published a year ago on the official YouTube channel of the IIT.
Technical challenges and areas of uncertainty
Icub 3 has impressive capabilities, but it's not yet perfect. One of its weak points: its robustness. Indeed, if he falls, he could receive quite significant damage and getting up alone is not yet part of his skills.
Another challenge facing researchers: the latency time between the operator's actions and the robot's movements. During the experiment, a latency of approximately 100 milliseconds was noted. This doesn't seem like much, but it's actually quite large and this interval can be confusing in use. The only solution found at the moment is a compensatory measure, which consists of making slower movements.
During their first experiment, the scientists struggled to establish sufficient bandwidth, necessary for perfectly smooth operation of Icub 3. For the moment, this is not important, but it could become a problem if this technology is one day used in environments where connectivity is limited .
Despite its few limitations, Icub in its most advanced version represents a giant step forward in robotics. For the moment, it is the first prototype to offer such a strong interaction link between man and machine. This technology is still in its embryonic state, and the room for progress is still very large. Once perfected, it could be applied to many areas: assistance to the elderly or people with disabilities, education and learning, medical assistance, industry or even space exploration .
- Icecub 3 is a robot designed by the Italian Institute of Technology.
- It can be controlled remotely by an operator, and is equipped so that the operator can see and feel the environment around it.
- Despite some technical limitations, an experiment was successfully carried out at the Venice Biennale, where a person was able to visit one of the exhibitions through the body of Icub 3, while it was located 290 km away.
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