Where do you do a telepresence robot
By Rafael Hostettler
Imagine you are controlling a robot - but neither from your sofa with a game controller nor by giving it a voice command. No, you embody him! You put on a suit that transmits your movements and emotions to a robot and in return lets you see, hear, feel and smell what the robot is feeling. Your body is in one place, your mind in another.
This technological revolution enables you to travel instantly. A visit to your grandparents during lunch break, surfing in Hawaii during your coffee break and hiking on Mount Everest in the afternoon. One day you could explore the surface of Mars while your body stays safely behind in the space station. What we like in movies Avatar, Transcendence or Surrogates has already been exemplified will soon become a reality.
The 2009 film Surrogates anticipated the concept of telepresence robots.
For the time being, we are limited by technical challenges. We don't yet know how to build robots that are good enough to make this vision a reality. Even the Boston Dynamics Atlas, although extremely impressive, is still a very noisy and energy-hungry machine and thus far removed from the graceful dynamics of the human body. In addition, we do not understand enough how we can pretend our senses that they sense something that has been recorded elsewhere. But virtual reality headsets as well as haptic suits and gloves are increasingly appearing that try to create an interface between our sensory system and another world - be it virtual or real.
But while our attempts still seem awkward, progress is rapid. And we can expect it to accelerate further thanks to an XPRIZE competition sponsored by the Japanese airline ANA with prize money of $ 10 million. It's a bold move to unleash a movement that will make telepresence robotics - as the technology described above is called - a success.
How do we convey our identity through a robot?
With this acceleration in mind, there is reason to hope that we will have our own - or shared - telepresence robot within the next decade. And that begs a fundamental question: once we're robots, what is fashion?
Fashion means covering and changing our bodies with materials that, presented in a social context, convey status, identity and taste. As soon as you interact with the world through a robot, that is you. The robot is perceived as you. And so the question of what this robot looks like, how it sounds and smells becomes just as much a question of fashion as today's decision between Manolo Blahniks and Uggs before leaving the house! Who do you wanna be A large, slender robot, covered with a fabric that emits a soft blue glow - and is reminiscent of elves from a fantasy world? Or would you prefer to be wrapped in strong and shiny metal armor? Or a punk robot? An alien being with a glossy black surface and glowing tribal tattoos? As with contemporary fashion, the answer also depends on the occasion and mood. The pixie could be perfect for a catwalk, while a sleek robot in a tie could be the right choice for your next business meeting.
A new wave of creativity
It is often feared that robots will make us indistinguishable and harmonized. But I think it will work the other way around: Telepresence robotics will unleash an unprecedented wave of creativity in fashion. Today, fashion is limited by many factors: the shape of the body, the fact that it has to be comfortable and wearable - at least away from the catwalk. Your skin needs to breathe. If your clothes are too heavy or too tight, at some point you will want to get rid of them. We all know what it is like to struggle out of ski boots. Beyond clothing, there are only very limited possibilities to change the body itself (tattoos, piercings, brandings and for the very brave: implants). Most of them - apart from makeup - are quite permanent.
None of these restrictions apply to robots. They can have a delicate surface that feels like normal skin to you when you control the robot, even though the surface is made of shiny metal, scales, or whatever we can think of. Haven't you always wanted to be a mighty warrior but not be weighed down by the weight of armor?
With technologies like 3D printing evolving faster and faster, such unique designs are getting easier and simpler and it's only our imagination that limits what we can be. Why should we all want to be the same robot? We are using fashion to define who we are and we will use fashion to define who our robots represent. This opens up a whole new perspective, let's explore it!
Rafael Hostettler, here as @raf, is the founder and managing director of Devanthro UG - the Roboy Company and Medical Templates AG, he regularly appears as a speaker on topics of the future (robotics, AI and the future of work). All with one simple goal: to be able to stay curious forever.
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