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- Antonio Cao
The most inspiring essay I read over the last two years was Marvin Minsky's 1980 article on Teleprescence. It describes a future where all the dull, dirty, and dangerous work of the society are done via teleoperated robots.
The thing that strikes me the most about this essay was its unapologetic optimism. To Minsky, there's no inherit obstacles against realizing this vision. Afterall, building robots on Earth is surely easier than sending humans to the moon, which was accomplished a decade ago by the time of the writing. It was a rosy era when humans are ready to mine asteroids and expand into the galaxy. I wish that someday we can realize these promises.
Minsky’s vision compelled Tim Foldy-Porto and I to participate in the ANA XPrize challenge to build a teleoperated humanoid robot.
Over a few months, we built a robotic arm with a custom designed actuator unit, and a haptic glove that tracks the position of the fingers to provide force and tactile feedback. Here's an initial sketch of the skeleton of the robot.
Due to resource constraints, we sold the IP of the robot to another company, and focused our development effort on the haptic glove. Even though we didn’t achieve the initial goal, the vision still kept me awake from time to time. The potential to extend a person’s reach from a molecule to the entire solar system still gives me chills. There’s no reason why this shouldn’t be the reality, at least not according to the laws of physics.