Do you ever wish you had an extra pair of hands? The backpack robot Fusion can make that possible. Developed in Japan with designer Yamen Saraiji in the lead, Fusion (Full body Surrogacy for Collaborative Communication) is worn like a backpack with a pair of arms that come around the wearer, as if someone was standing behind them and guiding an activity. The bot is also equipped with 3D binaural audio and stereo vision. The arms can move freely or cuffs can be attached to the backpack wearer’s wrists, so whoever is controlling the robot can literally guide their partner’s hands.
This bot could be extremely useful in a variety of situations, like surgery, engineering, and the classroom. The person controlling the robot could be far away and called upon when needed, with the bot acting as their avatar. This type of experience is known as “telepresence.”
It isn’t the first time engineers have tried out telepresence. One company – Telexistence – created a robot that can be controlled via VR gloves and a headset. The robot obeys the commands of the human, and the human sees what the robot sees. In the 2018 marketing video for the robot – Model H – a user chooses a surrogate from different locations. Once selected, the robot goes shopping for a surfboard in Hawaii and even engages in a space walk from the ISS.
The Model H looks a bit creepy, though it’s not as disarming as a robot designed in 2010. Named the Telenoid, this creation looks a little like a strange sea creature with human-like facial features. The built-in control system uses a laptop to capture a user’s head motion and voice, so you can have a conversation with someone remotely. Why this is better than facetiming or video chat is lost on me. The other telepresence robots seem more useful and less unnerving.