VR system robots move furniture for immersive interactions

VR system robots move furniture for immersive interactions
Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder have developed VR ‘swarm robots’ that move furniture, corresponding the physical objects in the room to a virtual scene for immersive haptic experiences

The system, called RoomShift, uses modified Roomba Create 2 robots with mechanical scissor lifts that drive beneath furniture to lift, move and place the object to match the virtual scene. The mechanical lifts can extend from 30cm to 100cm to pick up, carry, and place objects such as chairs, tables, and walls.

These ‘robot swarms’ can allow users to interact with the physical objects in the virtual space by sitting, leaning and physically interacting with furniture using their whole body. 

Ryo Suzuki, assistant professor in computer science, University of Calgary, wrote: There is a clear need to provide haptic sensations in virtual environments. Recent advances in display and tracking technologies promise immersive experience in virtual reality, but objects seen in VR such as walls and furniture are only visual: the user cannot touch, feel, sit on, or place objects on them. This limits the sense of full immersion in the virtual world. 

"To overcome these limitations, various haptic interfaces have been explored. In the previous work, most haptic interfaces focus on finger-tip haptic feedback with actuated controllers or on-body haptic sensations with wearable devices. Through a dynamic haptic environment, users can touch and interact with the whole virtual scene with their bodies --- they can walk, sit on, and lean against objects in the VR environment. Existing approaches for actuated environments, however, are often limited in speed of transformation (e.g., slow transformation with inflatables) and the range of supported interactions (e.g., only walking).”

To control the robots, an optical tracking system comprised of 20 Qualisys Miqus 5 IR cameras are used to track objects, attaching markers to maintain constant relative positions regardless of the height of the scissor lift. 

Roomba 2
Suzuki identified several applications for the RoomShift technology. Suzuki said: “We specifically focus on architectural application scenarios, such as rendering physical room interiors for virtual real estate tours and collaborative architectural design, two increasingly common application areas for VR. Virtual real estate tours reduce the time and cost compared to on-site viewings, but currently lack the bodily experience of being able to touch surfaces and sit down.

 “In architectural design, VR aids the communication between architects and clients, where proposed designs can be experienced, discussed and modified before building them. We are motivated by how RoomShift can enable people with various physical abilities to experience, test and co-design these environments with their bodies. Most of the elements in these applications can be covered with a finite set of furniture and props (e.g., chairs, desks, and walls).”