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Japanese robot mirrors master’s movements

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The Avatar headlines were inevitable, weren’t they? Japanese researchers have unveiled a master-slave robot that moves in synch with kit worn by the robot’s controllers.

Telesar V of Keio University has a more serious purpose than entertainment, though: its developers hope it could be a precursor to robots designed to enter hazardous locations like Fukushima under remote control – but with more flexibility than the familiar wheeled robots now used in such circumstances.

To get something like human movement is no mean feat: the robot has eight joints for its head, seven in its arms, and seven degrees of freedom in its body. It sends sensory data back to the human controller, whose 3D head-mounted display shows what the robot is “seeing” with its stereo camera.

The other two components of the control system are a vest that captures the wearer’s movements; and gloves with semiconductors and motors to provide a haptic experience embracing touch, pressure, texture, heat and cold.

As professor Susumu Tachi of the university’s graduate school of media and design said: “further research and development could enable this to go into areas too dangerous for humans, and [do] jobs that require human skills.”

Such robots, he said, could help with the three-decade task of decommissioning the reactors. ®

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