If you want to make a complex piece of machinery easy to control by a multitude of different people from different walks of life you have to use something that’s common to many different groups. The U.S. military has found this common thread for several of its military robots: console gamepads.
Some of the U.S. military’s robots are controlled by a gamepad that is very similar to the controller of an Xbox 360. As one of the most popular game consoles around, the Xbox controller is very familiar and easy to operate for a variety of users.
Researchers David Bruemmer and Douglas Few at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Idaho National Lab have found a way to control robots that they feel is even more intuitive than the Xbox 360 style controller. The researchers took a Packbot made by iRobot that is used by the military to search out mines and diffuse bombs and modified it for a new control method.
The researchers say that the problem with using the gamepad is that it requires so much of a soldier’s attention to operate the robot that they can miss information sent from the robots sensors. To remedy this problem, Bruemmer and Few believe a more intuitive control method is needed to free up the solider to pay more attention to the sensor data.
The more intuitive control method the pair of researchers chose is the Nintendo Wiimote. The Wiimote from a typical Nintendo Wii game console was modified to control a Packbot. The researchers say that the motion sensitive Wiimote allows for far more intuitive control of the robot by directly translating hand movements into movements of the robot.
Few told New Scientists, “It’s Awesome [controlling the robot with the Wiimote].” Few also says that the control system could be modified to activate the Wiimote vibration feedback when the robot detects something.
The pair also plan to modify an iPhone to receive video streams directly from the robot's cameras eliminating the need for soldiers to carry a laptop. There is no word on if the researchers will modify the machine gun wielding variety of the Packbot for use with the Wiimote.
quote: The joypad consists of two groups of thumb-activated buttons, one for steering and the other for speed control. The problem with the joypad is that it takes a lot of concentration and can monopolise the attention of the soldier using it.
quote: Maybe the researchers can work in the sound effects too so when the Packbot diffuses a bomb you can get that “whoo” sound heard in Wii Sports golf.