Motion Lib, a startup in Japan, claims to have made advancements in an area of robotics known as haptics, which replicates the sensation of touch. Robots with better touch sensitivity could be used to enhance many manufacturing processes, or help humans work better with robots from remote locations. Nikkei Asia’s Aya Onishi reports:
A Japanese startup is taking a major step toward commercializing real haptics technology that can replicate the exact feel and texture of objects, opening up new remote opportunities in health care, construction, manufacturing and other fields.
Motion Lib, launched out of Japan’s Keio University, will enter a partnership with Tata Consultancy Services as early as this month to develop an advanced haptics feedback system that can be used in a variety of industries.
They aim to launch the system globally as early as 2024. TCS will also work on cloud infrastructure to store data of different tasks and movements that the system can carry out.
TCS has a market capitalization of around 12 trillion rupees ($153 billion), more than IBM, operating in 46 countries and working with over 2,000 startups. It partners with over 500 researchers worldwide, including at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and has the connections to introduce new technology to major corporations.
Conventional haptics systems cannot replicate small differences in resistance, making handling delicate items a challenge. Real haptics technology, first put into practical use by Keio University project professor Kohei Onishi, can simulate minute tactile sensations, allowing users to pick up balloons and potato chips via a robotic arm without damaging them, or figure out how hard they can squeeze a cake before crushing it, for example.
Onishi was also involved in the founding of Motion Lib. The startup has developed a proprietary chip which, when inserted into robots and other machines, can remotely transmit detailed tactile sensations back to the user.
The technology relies on an algorithm to quantify firmness, resistance and other factors, and can track the user’s movements down to a ten-thousandth of a second. It is expected to be used in a range of applications, from allowing doctors to “feel” patient organs during remote surgery, to having robots recreate techniques used by skilled craftspeople.
Motion Lib is already testing the technology with companies and research institutions at home. It is working on plastering walls remotely with general contractor Obayashi. It also developed a PCR testing robot with Yokohama National University and other partners, allowing medical professionals to collect samples remotely without hurting their subjects. Real haptics could open up further remote opportunities in fields that traditionally have required a physical presence, including health care, construction, maintenance and agriculture.
The technology could also be used to store specialized skills as tactile data, so they can be recreated remotely and passed on to future generations.
“We are looking to commercialize the technology globally within two to three years in partnership with Tata Group,” Motion Lib CEO Takahiro Mizoguchi said. For example, Japan is a leader in endoscopies and real haptics could bring that know-how to developing countries, where the expertise is not readily available.
Watch a demonstration of Motion Lib’s haptic technology below. (Subtitled in English)
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