The backpack that really is an extra pair of hands 2018-11-23T16:09:08+01:00
tech research

The robot backpack

Imagine if your backpack didn’t just carry your belongings, but gave you … a pair of extra arms.

Sound fanciful? It really isn’t. Researchers at two Japanese universities have created a robot designed to be attached to your body – with two limbs, controlled by another person, that can help you with tasks.

The aim of Fusion, as it is called, is to allow two people to work together even when they are not in the same place – or when it is better for the instructor to show rather than tell.

The operator uses a virtual reality headset and controllers to move the robot’s limbs remotely – they can even be in a different country.

The headset allows the operator to see things more or less from the backpack wearer’s point of view, thanks to a head on the backpack which transmits live visuals, and to control the arms using two handheld controllers to move and guide the arms of the wearer.

Researchers Yamen Saraiji, Tomoya Sasaki, ReoMastumura, KoutaMinamizawa and Masahiko Inami, from Keio University’s Graduate School of Media Design in Tokyo and the University of Tokyo’s Research Centre for Advanced Science and Technology, showed Fusion at Siggraph 2018, the annual computer graphics conference, held this year in Vancouver.

Saraiji, a senior assistant professor who is originally from Syria, explained: “This system can enable a wide variety of applications. From our research perspective, we have been focusing on applications to enhance our wellbeing, so we can collectively perform tasks and solve problems.”

Fusion could be used to teach someone new skills or actions, for example during physiotherapy; to improve posture; or in situations where one person needs to instruct or guide another remotely.

The promotional video shows Fusion helping its wearer assemble building blocks and demonstrating movements, and also shows how the robot’s arms can be attached to the wearer’s with wristbands, allowing the operator to directly guide the wearer’s movements. The robot is also shown giving fist bumps and thumbs-up signs to the wearer.

Saraiji has also produced a device called MetaLimbs, which featured arms controlled via foot movements, which was also on show at Siggraph. And last year, Royal College of Art graduate Dani Clode designed a foot-operated third thumb.

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