The aim of this project is to design a system that facilitates collaboration between multiple humans and robots regardless of their geographical location. With VR/AR technology, all parties will be able to communicate and interact with each other even when located remotely. There are many potential use-cases for this system: applications ranging from engineering design to education are envisaged.
Collaborative robotics (cobotics) is a developing field, allowing robots to work in a flexible and safe manner in close proximity to humans. The augmentation of a human’s powers of perception and judgement by a responsive and precise robotic assistant will isolate the human worker from potential work hazards, and improve process efficiency. The robotic assistant is taught to perform complex, repetitive and strenuous tasks by the human, thereby reducing the likelihood of the human experiencing undue stress or physical injury.
When cobotics is combined with virtual reality, a new set of working and teaching methodologies becomes available. For example, a virtual classroom. In this scenario, the teacher is in front of the real robot (perhaps in VR classroom in Sheffield), and every student is connected remotely to the VR system where they can see their teacher and a virtual avatar of the real robot. The students themselves could be anywhere in the world, all taking part in the same lesson, observing how their own robot avatar behaves in exactly the same way as the real robot located in Sheffield. The students can learn how to teach real robots at their own physical locations how to perform complex tasks, by observing and interacting with their VR robot avatar.
The teacher can see avatars of the entire student cohort in the VR classroom, and can provide performance feedback in real-time. In an industrial context, the students would be engineers
and the teacher would be an expert in a particular procedure or process. This project is progressing towards an implementation of the Industry 4.0 “Factory of the Future”, due to its core concepts of interoperability and human cyber-physical symbiosis.