Leonardo (daVinci) is a robot that has been in use for quite a while allowing surgeons to perform operations that go beyond their “physical” capability. With Leonardo a surgeon can make incisions at the sub mm level, suture capillaries and so on. This feat is made possible on the one hand by a computer that can scale up the surgeon movements and by the other hand by a robot that can operate with micron precision. The surgeon observe the operating field from a station that is just a few meters away from the patient.
The daVinci robot was approved by FDA in 2000 and it has assisted in thousands of surgery since.
Now a team of researchers at CSAIL, MIT, have demonstrated a virtual reality interface to let a person operates a robot by looking at reality as if he was the robot (watch the clip).
The approach they followed was to create a “homunculus” inside the “brain” of the robot and map such a homunculus with the actions performed by the operator, that in turns is using the robot’s sensors to “feel” what the robot feels.
The apparatus adopted to convey this “robotic feeling” is a standard Oculus Rift set up, the innovation lies all in the software creating and mapping the “homunculus”.
The concept applies to any tele-control of a robot and the software should be easily portable on different robotic platforms. The researchers claim the system is quite effective providing the operator a seamless identification with the robot, hence a straightforward way to operate it.
It is a sort of a symbiotic relationship, where the senses are provided by the robot and the “brain” by the human operator.