Nobody likes being alone, and Japanese researchers from Yamagata University are developing a robot to make sure you’ll never have to be alone again: the MH-2 wearable miniature humanoid lives on your shoulder and can be remotely inhabited by your friends from anywhere in the world.
MH-2 (that’s “MH” for “miniature humanoid”) is a wearable telepresence robot that acts as an avatar for a remote operator. With two 7-DOF arms, a 3-DOF head and 2-DOF body, plus one additional DOF for realistic breathing (!), MH-2 is designed to be able to mimic human actions as accurately and realistically as possible. Think Telenoid, except it can actually do stuff besides wiggle around semi-creepily.
This may seem a little bit weird at first, but here’s the idea: you’ve got a friend or a relative that you want to share an experience with. Like, you’re traveling or something, and you want some company. Instead of having said friend come along with you (we’ll assume that they’re busy as opposed to just antisocial), you can bring along an MH-2 instead. Back home, your friend puts on a 360-degree immersive 3D display and stands in front of some sort of motion capture environment (like a Kinect, for example). Then, they get to see whatever the MH-2 sees. Meanwhile, the robot on your shoulder acts like an avatar, duplicating the speech and gestures of your friend right there for you to interact with directly. Ultimately, this is what the MH-2 is going for:
For all this to work convincingly, gestures need to be reproduced accurately and quickly, at a speed equivalent to a human being making gestures in real time. This is why MH-2 is so complicated and requires that gigantic backpack full of servos, which control its joints by tugging on wires:
This backpack doesn't look like it's probably a whole lot of fun to carry around for extended periods of time, which is why the researchers are trying to find ways to reduce the bulk of the 22 (!) actuators that are currently required to operate the MH-2. Until that happens, you'll just have to accept the fact that using the MH-2 could possibly make you look like a little bit of a robot geek. Possibly.
The 20-DOF Miniature Humanoid MH-2: a Wearable Communication System, by Yuichi Tsumaki, Fumiaki Ono, and Taisuke Tsukuda, from Yamagata University in Japan, was presented this month at the 2012 IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation, in St. Paul, Minn.
Evan Ackerman is the senior writer for IEEE Spectrum’s award-winning robotics blog, Automaton. Since 2007, he has written over 6,000 articles on robotics and emerging technology, covering conferences and events on every single continent except Africa, Antarctica, Australia, and South America (although he remains optimistic). In addition to Spectrum, Evan’s work has appeared in a variety of other online publications including Gizmodo and Slate, and you may have heard him on NPR’s Science Friday or the BBC World Service if you were listening at just the right time. Evan has an undergraduate degree in Martian geology, which he almost never gets to use, and still wants to be an astronaut when he grows up. In his spare time, he enjoys scuba diving, rehabilitating injured raptors, and playing bagpipes excellently.