Helping hands

Written by: Eureka! | Published:

We’ve all felt like we could use an extra pair of hands now and again. Sometimes another set of eyes would come to help us complete a task more efficiently – or safely, too.

The human need for extra hands is long-established. For example, astronauts carrying out delicate repair work to the outside of the International Space Station, or even lunar or Mars bases in the future. These are high-pressure instances

where the smallest lapse in concentration or mistake could be life-threatening, not just for the astronaut carrying out the maintenance, but also for the rest of the crew.

Alternatively, and with similar life or death stakes, a paramedic on the scene of a potentially fatal incident may be unfamiliar with particular medical procedures and would benefit from the experience of a consultant paramedic.

The challenge

There are potentially thousands of other professionals who find themselves in scenarios where an objective set of eyes and an extra set of hands would be a huge help. So, this month’s challenge is to design a solution to this. It can be as high- or low-tech as you wish, but is must be portable and as unobtrusive as possible.

The idea we have in mind will be revealed in the January 2019 issue of Eureka! Until then see what you can come up with. Submit your ideas by leaving a comment on the Coffee Time Challenge section of the Eureka! website or by emailing the editor:

The solution

The solution to last month’s Coffee Time Challenge to design a portable system for helping workers who find themselves in scenarios where a second pair of hands or eyes would be of huge benefit comes from researchers from Keio University Graduate School of Media Design and the University of Tokyo, Japan. They have devised a revolutionary remote collaboration system called Fusion.

Fusion is a wearable, backpack-like device that includes a wireless camera system and a set of robotic arms linked to a PC-connected microcontroller. The camera is mounted over the shoulder of the wearer and sends visual and aural information back to an Oculus Rift VR headset worn by a remote operator who can in turn move the robotic limbs via a pair of motion controllers. The camera is also embedded with sensors that mimic the head movements of the remote operator, who doesn’t even have to be in the same country as the wearer of the device.

The aim of Fusion is to promote collaboration, learning at a distance and even rehabilitation. The arms can be used in a number of ways. They can move freely by themselves, be controlled by the host or can even be attached to the wearers arms using wrist cuffs so the operator can move the wearer’s arms around.

While the Fusion backpack is still in the prototype stage, it’s creators are currently in the process of turning the device into a marketable product and are in talks with a Tokyo start-up accelerator.

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Coffee Time Challenge is just a bit of fun, but it is based on a real engineering solution. If you send in your ideas by using the comment button below, we can add your solution as an alternative – perhaps something funny, practical, cheap or, of course, innovative.


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