Meet Fusion: A helpful robotic ‘parasite’ that lives on your back

You have probably seen (or you may even be) one of those parents who walks around with their baby on their back in a kind of modified backpack. Imagine how useful and extra productive a parent would be if their kid didn’t just sit there babbling, but could actually use their arms to reach out and assist with tasks. Now imagine that the kid was a robot, and you’ll get the gist of Fusion, a crazy new research project coming out of Japan’s Keio University.

Shown off to great acclaim at SIGGRAPH 2018, Fusion offers its wearers a second pair of working arms. What makes this different the other “extra limbs” projects we have covered at Digital Trends is the fact the operator of the Fusion robot is another human user, who controls the arms remotely using the magic of virtual reality. Essentially, it gives you two bodies (and brains) for the price of one.

“Fusion is a wearable telepresence backpack system that acts as an extension to the wearer body — or surrogate — so a remote user can dive into and operate it,” Yamen Saraiji, one of the researchers on the project, told Digital Trends. “The backpack is equipped with two humanoid arms and a head. Using it, two people can share the body and physical actions. One remote person uses a virtual reality headset to see live visuals from the robot head’s binocular vision, and can control the arms naturally using two handheld controllers. Thus, the user can feel ‘fused’ with the surrogate body, and both can share their actions. This system can enable a wide variety of applications and scenarios that can be explored using it.”

Keio University

Saraiji said that one idea they have for said applications would be teaching someone to perform actions. For example, it could be used by a therapist to assist with a patient’s physical practice. (Or, and we’re projecting here, by an old-school boss to clip you round the ear when you make a mistake!)

“From our research perspective, we have been focusing on body augmentative technologies and their applications to enhance our wellbeing,” Saraiji continued. “For Fusion, we imagined the situation at which our bodies can become surrogates for others, so we can collectively perform tasks and solve problems from one shared body. The most evident problem was the disjointed collaboration between remote people that we actively face in the current telepresence systems. With the proposed concept of body sharing, we not only solve the collaboration problem, but also propose its potentials as a skill transfer and rehabilitation system.”

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