University of Sheffield: New app can transport you anywhere in the world in the body of a robot

With the future of international travel looking uncertain for most people, new technology developed by Cyberselves, a recent University of Sheffield spinout, could enable people to see, hear and feel anywhere in the world via a robot.

The new telepresence application can give people the ability to transport themselves into the body of a robot. The app lets people see what the robot sees, hear what the robot hears, feel what the robot feels and move around in its body.

To demonstrate how easy the telepresence technology is to use, the University is offering people the opportunity to transport themselves into a robot as part of the UK’s Festival of Robotics 2021.

Telepresence technology could be used to help people do such things as visit relatives, visit a museum and explore other attractions in a city anywhere on the planet. It could also be used to help with industrial applications such as to monitor a remote production line or carry out operations in hazardous environments – all through the body of a robot which they can control using a VR headset or by a simple web browser.

Telepresence robots have been around for some time, but they are currently expensive and difficult to use, meaning the technology is yet to be widely adopted. However, the new app is making it easier than ever before for people to access and use telepresence robots paving the way for the potential of the technology to be fully realised.

Cyberselves’ Teleport app can be used with any commercial VR headset, or through a browser on a computer. The researchers have also developed Animus – a universal language for robots – meaning their Teleport app can be licensed to use with any robot that is located anywhere in the world.

During the festival, people have the opportunity to transport themselves into the body of a small animal-like robot – MiRo – at the University of Sheffield and move through a specially constructed maze.

Three MiRo robots – two either side looking inward at one in the centre
MiRo is a companion robot developed by a team of University of Sheffield researchers led by Professor Tony Prescott as part of spinout company, Consequential Robotics. With six senses, including two camera eyes, MiRo is a flexible platform suited for developing companion robots which is also used extensively in education. The Cyberselves Teleport app will enable people to transport themselves into the body of MiRo, see what it sees, and travel through a maze using just their Internet browser and a keyboard – no need for a VR headset.

Dr Michael Szollosy, Chief Operating Officer at Cyberselves and Research Fellow at the University of Sheffield’s Department of Computer Science, said: “Telepresence robots have the potential to help us to meet many of the challenges we face across the world, particularly in the light of the recent Covid pandemic. With international travel severely limited or not possible at all for many people, telepresence robots could be used to enable people to travel and explore places virtually and communicate with one another safely. This could mean, for example, that parts of the tourism industry could continue despite restrictions in this or any future pandemics.

“Aside from tourism, telepresence robots have many other potential applications. They can help us deliver more efficient and personalised healthcare, address social isolation and help with the cleanup and repair of hazardous environments.

“The technology we have developed is incredibly easy for people to use. All you need to connect to a robot anywhere in the world is an Internet connection and a browser. Users can also use a VR headset for more immersive control, but the ability to use telepresence through an Internet browser will make the technology even more accessible and open up more possibilities for it to be used.”

Professor Tony Prescott, Director of Sheffield Robotics at the University of Sheffield, said: “By transporting themselves into the body of MiRo, we’re hoping that people will be able to experience first hand how easy it is to use a telepresence robot.

“Many people’s perception of what a telepresence robot is will have come from science fiction movies and TV shows and so they may think that it is a technology that is years away. However, what we have developed in Sheffield shows that telepresence robots can very much help us with everyday tasks and problems now, and they can be potentially used easily by everyone.”

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