The University of Glasgow is collaborating with the digital learning and assessment specialist, eCom Scotland is collaborating in a six-month project, funded by Innovate UK.
Running until October 2021, the project – called Super-immersive remote working via virtual reality controlled robotics (‘Superior’) – explores extending the capability of eCom’s virtual reality (VR) authoring tool, eNetReality, to enable users to control a physical, robotic arm from within a VR environment. This ground-breaking project has already attracted interest from a number of universities from around the world, including those in the USA, China and the Middle East.
The solution will provide remote access to specialised equipment, thus expanding the use and availability of robotics to a wider catchment. It will also facilitate creating robot training programmes, producing prototypes, undertaking experiments, carrying out repairs and evaluating problems, while reducing the need for travel – and making all this available ‘24/7’.
Dr Guodong Zhao, Principal Investigator at the University of Glasgow said: “We are very happy to work with the leading VR company, eCom, on this Innovate UK project to exploit the potentials of VR, robotics, and communications in future remote working.
“Providing the immense experience to users is crucial for the wide adoption of the robotics. We would be very excited to see the impact of our research on the commercial products.”
Dr Zhao’s colleague at the university, Professor Muhammad Imran, Head of the Communications Sensing and Imaging Research Group, added, “We’re excited to see practical applications of innovations and ideas developed at the University of Glasgow – and our collaboration with eCom, funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), is a great example.”
“Notably, the project aims to enable learners to build electronic circuits within a virtual world which, in the real world, will operate a robotic arm – supplied by the University of Glasgow,” said Wendy Edie, eCom’s Managing Director. “The project will provide support for Haptics and the ‘realspace’ control of robots.
“The impact of Covid19 has driven the need for this development, with the academic sector having the greatest need at present,” Wendy continued, “although, with the growth in robotic automation in industry, we’d expect to see a strong growth in demand from the commercial sector for this type of training.
“Increasingly, VR platforms provide accessible, immersive and engaging experiences, allowing people to work remotely and safely without compromising on the quality of the learning experiences. However, many working contexts require physical interaction between worker and a machine and/or materials.
“This feasibility study project aims to identify the process and model to do just that,” she added. “It aims to develop a prototype process using eCom’s VR authoring platform, eNetReality, and Glasgow University’s robot arm lab to deliver and share human skills, which aim at ‘general-purpose’ remote working. This process should allow people including teachers, students and engineers to carry out real-world physical tasks remotely via a robot, controlling the robotic actions using a haptic from within the immersive VR environment.”
In the short term, the University of Glasgow and eCom hope that developing this concept will support students who’ve been unable to attend their robotics labs because of Covid19 restrictions.
In addition, this immersive model for remote Robotics training – providing users with a so-called ‘super-immersive’ experience – should enable students to complete their work remotely. In turn, this should contribute towards the UK’s Net Zero targets, by reducing the need for staff to travel to specialised robotics labs.