Oculus Rift, a cool way to control your robots

30 Apr 2015

Roboticists in the University of Pennsylvania are working on a way to fully immerse themselves in remote robots, using Oculus Rift.

Named DORA (Dexterous Observational Roving Automaton), it’s basically a project to use Oculus Rift as a controllable, telepresence system, operating where the robot looks from the comfort of your own chair.

Of course, using cameras on robots isn’t anything new, however seeking out a truly immersive experience is. The challenge is to achieve absolute immersion.

You need to be able to create a platform that renders a virtual reality at a rate fast enough to convince our brains that it’s both in real time and comprehensive.

Anything short of that and our brains cotton on to the idea, and we throw up.

For DORA, the headset performs two key tasks. It tracks both orientation and position, the latter controlling the robot’s ‘head’ movements.

“The DORA Platform exploits the enabling technologies of virtual reality and teleoperated robotics to establish a groundbreaking physical-virtual interface,” say the researchers.

“The robot uses novel, patent-pending technology to track nuanced human head movement in all six degrees of freedom.”

According to an interview the team gave to IEEE, DORA’s cameras each stream back 976 x 582 video at 30fps.

That may not sound like much, but appraently that’s purely down to budgetary constraints and, if this prototype and concept took off, speeds would improve and complete the link.

Either way it’s a fine idea and, should it get the right funding, from the right partners, could lead to the development of some pretty handy robots. For example, disaster relief robots, where security forces use the robot in advance to do a recon.

Although, there are already drones that do these tasks, with many built for the specific purpose of gathering visual information on scenarios or targets.

Of course there’s also the scary, military, angle.

Robot head image, via Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic