It’s no secret that nonverbal cues play an essential role in our daily interactions, often offering a sense of engagement that words simply cannot. What if we could recreate this in a remote setting?
This question was the driving force behind a new project out of Cornell University that led to the creation of a robot, aptly named ReMotion, that represents a remote user in a physical space, replicating their movements in real time and conveying critical non-verbal communication. .
Bridging the non-verbal communication gap
In our digitally driven age, the need to foster effective communication despite physical distances has grown significantly. Mose Sakashita, a doctoral student in information sciences at Cornell who is also the author of ReMotion. The lead author of “Automatic Robotic Incarnation in Open Space Supporting Remote Collaboration” voiced this concern.
“Making gestures, taking someone’s gaze, intuitively knowing where someone’s attention is. in a remote environment, we lose these non-verbal, implicit cues that are essential to the design activity.”
ReMotion offers a solution to this concern, acting as a slim, nearly six-foot-tall embodiment of the remote user. The device has a head monitor, multi-directional wheels for legs, and sophisticated game engine software for the brain. By incorporating another Cornell device, the NeckFace, worn by the remote user, ReMotion can accurately reflect the user’s head and body movements.
A step forward in remote collaboration
While telepresence robots are not entirely new to the tech world, most of them require remote users to do manual work, often distracting them from primary tasks. However, ReMotion changes the game by 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 typically require active user engagement and can hinder peripheral awareness.
In a preliminary study, most participants reported a stronger sense of connection with their remote partners when using ReMotion compared to other telerobotic systems. This feature is fundamental, as co-authors’ attention has reportedly increased when using ReMotion.
ReMotion’s current prototype primarily supports one-to-one interactions in similar physical spaces. However, the developers plan to explore more diverse and asymmetrical scenarios in future iterations. Sakashita envisions a broader application for ReMotion, potentially revolutionizing virtual collaborative environments, classrooms, and other educational environments.
The project, a significant step forward in AI-powered remote collaboration, is indicative of researchers’ drive to improve human-robot interaction and remote collaboration. This innovation promises a future where distance is no longer a barrier to effective and efficient communication.