Sometimes it's hard to believe that researchers are contributing to science instead of just having a blast.
As Paolo Robuffo Giordano and colleagues at the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics, in Tübingen, Germany, would have it, scientific research means riding the business end of a giant industrial robot arm while playing video games. But hey -- they produced some serious research on it, which was presented at ICRA 2010.
The CyberMotion Simulator is basically a full motion simulator adapted to a racing car game. Players (or subjects, the researchers prefer to call them) sit in a cabin on a robot arm some 2 meters off the ground and drive a Ferrari F2007 car around a projected track with force-feedback steering wheel and pedals. The aim is to make the experience as realistic as possible without having to buy a real F2007, and to test the simulator with an environment that requires sudden, massive acceleration.
The robot arm is a Robocoaster, a modified six-axis Kuka KR 500 that can lift up to 500 kg. It's usually found in amusement parks and normally does not allow users any control. Robuffo Giordano and his collaborators want to use it to study how we perceive motion; their paper, though, deals with the mechanics of the simulator.
"A motion simulation system is a fundamental tool to understand how humans experience the sensation of motion," he says. "By running suitable experiments, one can gain better insights into the cognitive processes of the human brain."
Most motion simulators usually use six-axis actuated hexapods or Stewart platforms to recreate motion; the CAE 5000 is a typical flight simulator that moves on six cylindrical jacks. But lab Heinrich Bulthoff wanted to use a robotic manipulator arm to study multi-sensory motion perception, and F1 racing seemed like a challenging way to test the notion.
"The main challenges were related to the adaption or extension of existing motion control algorithms," saysGiordano, who worked on the F1 arm as a control and robotics engineer. "Our system offers a much larger motion envelope [than Stewart platforms], allowing subjects to be freely displaced in six degrees of freedom in space and even be placed upside-down."
The video above shows what it's like to turn the KUKA 500 into an F1 car. You can hear the loud whine of the arm as the driver takes the curves in the simulation of the famed Monza track. The 3D visuals of the course were created by Giordano's colleagues Joachim Tesch and Martin Breidt. Not bad for a DIY arcade game.
The team was able to reduce the delay in the robot's reaction to just 40 milliseconds and they are satisfied with the results. They believe the CyberMotion Simulator can be adapted to recreate the experience of being in a plane, helicopter, ship, and other vehicles. Another possibility is telepresence applications.
For now, the researchers are working on expanding the motion envelope of the simulator by adding movement to the cabin itself, as well as other improvements.
Meanwhile, I'd love to plug in Gran Turismo 5 and go for a spin, robot-style.
Updated on 9 August 2010 to clarify goal of the project and correct delay in robot's reaction.
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