Remotely pat your pet with Kinect and a Wiimote

[From ExtremeTech; more information is available from Taylor Veltrop’s web site]

Remotely pat your pet with Kinect and a Wiimote

By Sebastian Anthony on January 3, 2012

Taylor Veltrop, an enterprising roboticist with a fondness for felines, has crafted the mother of all Kinect (and Wiimote!) hacks: The teleoperation of a robot to groom a cat. As always with these hacks, you should […] watch the [4:25] video, then come back […] to find out how it works.

First, a quick run down of all the hardware and software required to make it work (there’s a lot). On Veltrop’s side, there’s a treadmill (for moving the robot around); a head-mounted display (HMD) which lets him see through the robot’s eyes or a secondary camera; a Kinect sensor to track Veltrop’s body movements (turning, bending); and two Wiimotes (one for each of the robot’s hands). The robot avatar is played by a Nao, a $15,000 21-degrees-of-freedom robot that’s widely used in academia. Nao is controlled via a WiFi network connection, and some complex software.

The end result, as you can see, is very accurate and surprisingly gentle (excluding where he hits the cat on the head). It isn’t at the same level as teleoperated bomb disposal robots, but considering the entire system cost less than $20,000 to build — as opposed to millions — and uses off-the-shelf components, it’s really rather impressive.

As the internet steadily encroaches on more and more of our life, teleoperation becomes increasingly important. Telepresence (the same thing, but without a physical avatar) is already used extensively by the military to bridge the painful divide felt by soldiers and their partners back home, and corporations regularly use telepresence tables and video link-ups to speed up decision making and reduce the number of expensive face-to-face meetings. Teleoperation is simply the next step.

Instead of a soldier being limited to an audio-and-video link to a loved one back home, teleoperation allows physical interaction over a distance — likewise, if a businessman is away for a few weeks or months in a foreign country, teleoperation could be the key to maintaining some modicum of intimacy. Just to put Veltrop’s invention into perspective: Imagine if you’re traveling and feeling homesick — you could grab a head-mounted display and a Wiimote from your suitcase, and be “patting” your cat or dog (or girlfriend) in a matter of seconds. It won’t be long until every household has a cheap, teleoperated robot that can be logged into remotely, mark my words.

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