A Brave Bomb-Disposal Robot You Control in Virtual Reality

Written by Aarian Marshall

A Brave Bomb-Disposal Robot You Control in Virtual Reality
A robot probably isn’t coming for your job. But there are plenty of dull, dirty, and dangerous gigs out there that humanity wouldn’t mind turning over to the machines. Indeed, a robot called Taurus from SRI International has already begun its takeover of one of the most dangerous jobs on Earth: bomb disposal.
Sure, bomb disposal robots have been rolling the earth for some time. But now SRI has taken its already brilliant bot and made it … brillianter, by outfitting Taurus with virtual reality. Before, Taurus’ operators watched a 3-D monitor to see the world through the robot’s eyes, then manipulated controls that translated their movements into the movement of the robot’s hands and graspers. Now by strapping on a VR headset, the user can use Oculus Touch controllers as manipulators.

It’s about as close as you can get to assuming the body of a machine. And adding to the immersion is the haptic feedback SRI can also load into the robot. “If you need to actually feel either the static forces that it’s pushing on, on a wall or the world, we can do that,” says Mark Baybutt, associate R&D director in the SRI Robotics Group. Especially useful for feeling around a suspicious device without blowing up your robotic proxy.
Now, look through the headset and you won’t just see the world through Taurus’ eyes. You’ll see a heads-up display of sorts, with virtual buttons you can tap with the Oculus Touch motion controls to lock the robot’s arms, for instance. “Not only does it make you feel more immersed and connected with the remote world that you’re operating,” says Baybutt, “but it also offers very unique and interesting human machine interfaces that we can actually create with different buttons or information presented to the user.”
Get ready for more of this sort of thing. As ever more sophisticated robots creep into our lives, we’ll need ever more sophisticated ways of interfacing with them. You’re already used to an operating system on your phone or PC, sure, but humans will have to develop interfaces for the virtual world that will connect us to machines like Taurus.
Not that you personally will be disposing of bombs anytime soon. And not that Taurus is only good for disposing bombs—send it into a mine if you don’t want to go yourself. If it’s dangerous and it needs doing, chances are that in the near future a robot will be putting its life on the line for a human with a machine strapped to their face.

SRI International has outfitted its Taurus bomb-disposal robot with VR, further immersing humans in the world of machines.


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Aarian Marshall