VR robots are slowly becoming mainstream with applications that go beyond typical manufacturing processes. Robots have been used for years in industrial environments where they perform automated repetitive tasks. But their practical use has been quite limited. Today, however, we see some of them in the consumer sector providing robotic solutions that require customization.
See also: Augmented reality in robotics: how AR improves robots
Augmented by other technologies such as AR, VR and AI, robots show improved efficiency and safety in accomplishing more complex processes. With virtual reality, humans can supervise robots remotely to improve their performance. VR technology provides human operators with a more immersive environment. This allows them to better interact with the robots and see the real environment of the robots in real time. Therefore, it opens vast possibilities of practical uses that improve our lives.
Real use cases of VR robots
1. TX SCARA: Automated Restocking of Refrigerated Shelves
Developed by Telexistence, TX SCARA is powered by three main technologies: robotics, artificial intelligence and virtual reality. This robot specializes in restocking the refrigerated shelves of stores. It relies on GORDON, its AI system, to know when and where to place products. When problems arise due to external factors or system miscalculations, Telexistence employees use VR headsets to remotely control the robot and solve the problem.
TX SCARA is present in 300 FamilyMart stores in Japan. Plans to expand their use in convenience stores in the United States are already underway. With TX SCARA capable of operating 24/7 at a rate of up to 1,000 bottles or cans per day, it can replace up to three hours of human labor every day for a single store.
2. Reachy: a robot that shows emotions
Reachy gives VR robots a human side. An expressive humanoid platformer, Reachy mimics human expressions and body language. It transmits human emotions through its antennae and its movements.
Users operate Reachy remotely using VR equipment that shows the environment surrounding the robot. They can move Reachy’s head, arms and hands to manipulate objects and interact with people around the robot. They can also control Reachy’s mobile base to move around and explore its surroundings.
Since it can be programmed with Python and ROS to perform almost any task, its use cases are virtually limitless. It has applications in various sectors, such as research (to explore new frontiers in robotics), healthcare (to replace mechanical tasks), retail (to improve customer experience), education (to make learning more immersive) and many others. Reachy is also fully customizable, with many configurations, modules and hardware options available.
3. Robotic VR: haptic technology for medical care
A team of researchers co-led by City University of Hong Kong has developed an advanced robotic virtual reality system that has great potential for use in healthcare. Robotic VR, an innovative human-machine interface (HMI), can be used to perform medical procedures. This includes performing swab tests and caring for patients with infectious diseases.
See also: AR and VR technologies guide robots into a smarter future
Doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals control the VR robot using a VR headset and a flexible electronic skin that allows them to experience tactile sensations while interacting with patients remotely. This allows them to control and adjust the movement and force of the robot when collecting biological samples or providing nursing care. Robotic VR can help minimize the risk of infection and prevent contagion.
4. Skippy: your neighborhood delivery robot
Skippy takes deliveries to a whole new level. Human operators, called Skipsters, control these VR robots remotely. They use VR headsets to supervise the robots as they move around the neighborhood. When you order food or groceries from a partner location, Skippy picks it up and delivers it to your doorstep. Powered by AI and controlled by Skipsters, the cute robot rolls through footpaths while dodging foot traffic and obstacles.
You can now have Skippy deliver your food orders to a handful of restaurants in Minneapolis and Jacksonville. With its manufacturer, Carbon Origins, planning to expand the fleet this year, it won’t be long before you spot a Skippy in your town.
Beware of other VR-enabled robots
Virtual reality is an enabling technology in robotics. By merging these two technologies, we are bound to see more practical uses for VR-enabled robots in the mainstream market. As technologies become more advanced and the required hardware becomes more affordable, we can expect to see more VR robots that we can interact with in our daily lives.
Developments in VR interface and robotics technology will eventually pave the way for advancements in the usability of VR robots in real-world applications.
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