It’s no secret that nonverbal cues play an important role in our everyday interactions, often offering a sense of involvement that words cannot convey. What if we can recreate it in remote settings?
This question was the guiding force behind a new project from Cornell University, which led to the creation of a robot, named ReMotion, that represents a remote user in physical space, replicating their movements in real time and delivering critical nonverbal communication. .
Bridging the Gap in Nonverbal Communication
In our digital age, the need to encourage effective communication despite physical distance has grown substantially. Mose Sakashita, doctoral student of information science at Cornell, who is also the lead author of “ReMotion: Supporting Remote Collaboration in Open Spaces with Automated Robot Embodiments,” voiced these concerns:
“The gesture of pointing, the perception of another person’s gaze, intuitively knowing where one’s attention is – in remote settings, we miss the implicit nonverbal cues that are so important for carrying out design activities.”
ReMotion offers a solution to this problem, serving as a sleek remote user embodiment nearly six feet tall. Monitor sports set for the head, omnidirectional wheels for the feet, and state-of-the-art game engine software for the brain. By combining with another device made by Cornell, the NeckFace, worn by a remote user, ReMotion can accurately mirror the movement of the user’s head and body.
A Step Forward in Remote Collaboration
While telepresence robots are not entirely new to the tech scene, most require manual operation from the remote user, often distracting them from their main task. However, ReMotion changes the game, delivering a smooth, automated experience that keeps the user focused. It also outperforms other existing systems such as virtual reality and mixed reality collaboration which usually require active user engagement and may hinder peripheral awareness.
In the preliminary study, most participants reported feeling a higher sense of connection with their remote colleagues when using ReMotion compared to other telerobotic systems. This feature is so basic because shared attention among collaborators is reportedly enhanced when using ReMotion.
The current ReMotion prototype primarily supports one-to-one interaction in identical physical spaces. However, the developer plans to explore more diverse and asymmetrical scenarios in future iterations. Sakashita envisions even broader applications for ReMotion, potentially revolutionizing virtual collaborative environments, classrooms, and other educational environments.
This project, a substantial step forward in AI-powered remote collaboration, is a testament to researchers’ drive to enhance human-robot interaction and remote collaboration. This innovation promises a future where distance is no longer a barrier to efficient and effective communication.