One day, Richard Hulskes came up with the crazy idea of 3D printing a life-size humanoid robot to act as a “physical avatar” for hospitalized children unable to explore the outside world.
This is what happened…
Internet users were once hooked with the idea of being able to create and share their own digital content such as videos, blogs and images, but now they have the opportunity to share tangible physical products.
The idea came after a visit to the New York Maker Faire in September 2014 where Richard met Kevin Watters. Kevin runs a search engine software development company and contributed heavily to MyRobotLab, an open source Java framework for robotics and creative machine control.
Using MyRobotLab, Kevin created a connection between a 3D printed humanoid robot called “InMoov” and the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset.
This connection enabled the wearer of an Oculus Rift to see through the eyes of the InMoov (a pair of HD webcams) — and what’s more, when the wearer moved his or her head, the robot would mirror those same actions.
The InMoov was created by French sculpture artist, Gael Langevin.
Kevin probably didn’t realize it at the time but this little InMoov “hack” would become a big deal to the maker communities of London and later Sacramento, California.
Kevin testing his “Oculus-InMoov” connection in August 2014; the month before the NY Maker Faire.
After returning to London, Richard contacted the Children’s Hospital School at Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) to get the ball rolling and figure out if Kevin’s clever trick could be used to enhance the lives of children who were required to stay inside due to severe and sometimes terminal illness.
After a long discussion, GOSH agreed to go forward with the project and a final idea was agreed upon — create a ‘telepresence’ robot that will allow the children to safely explore one of London’s greatest places of discovery:London Zoo.
We learned quite fast that the monkeys would go nuts but the penguins didn’t seem to care at all. — Richard Hulskes
At this time, Wevolver were part of Bethnal Green Ventures (BGV), an accelerator programme for startups using technology to solve social or environmental problems. BGV is based in Somerset House, London; here Richard was able to organise a seven-week public workshop where anyone could drop in to help print and assemble the robot using the six Ultimaker 3D printers donated to the project by Ultimaker GB.
Initially, the plan was for the robot to be operated by children wearing virtual reality headgear and video game controllers, which would enable the kids to manoeuvre the robot around the zoo and see through its eyes — all from the comfort of the hospital.
However, when the latest addition to Wevolver’s team, Cameron Norris, met Miika Perä and Hamid Reza Zaheri (two engineers seeking to disrupt the $50 billion global nuclear decommissioning market) they decided to push things a little further.
Miika and Hamid controlling the Dextrus 2.0 by Open Bionics using a Manus Glove and their telepresence system.
Miika and Hamid were working on a system to replace traditional robotic teleoperation (which relies on joystick control and flat screen TVs) with innovations from the gaming industry, including virtual reality. They hoped that by making teleoperation more responsive they could reduce human exposure to the hazardous ‘high-level waste’ materials generated by uranium and plutonium reactors.
Before long, Miika, Hamid and Cameron had teamed up to begin improving the teleoperation of the InMoov robot at London Hackspace (where they drank a lot of Club-Mate). Their first “hack” was to introduce a ‘data glove’ with haptic feedback to enable direct control of InMoov’s individual digits.
After building a successful prototype, it was clear the original InMoov hand needed to be replaced to achieve the level of dexterity the children would be expecting. To solve this problem, the guys contacted Open Bionics co-founder, Sammy Payne, to see if she could help.
Sammy’s company creates affordable and open source 3D printed bionic hands for amputees but they had also been working on a fully articulated robotic hand called the Ada Hand — a perfect upgrade for the InMoov.
With help from Sammy and Peter Gibbons from Bristol Robotics Lab, it wasn’t long before the guys were using the Ada Hand for sophisticated teleoperation.
(Oh! And Prince Andrew came to meet the InMoov Robots For Good team after they moved to the wonderful FabLab London.)
Shortly afterwards, Richard was contacted by Jamie Rodota from theSacramento Kings (SK) — an American professional basketball team based in Sacramento, California.
Jamie explained that in 2014 the Sacremento Kings launched a project to enable kids in a local hospital to experience the game “courtside” using virtual reality and now they were ready to take things a step further by building a telepresence InMoov for their new stadium.
Around this time, Wevolver were also nominated for the “3-DIY” Interactive Innovation Award at SXSW. This gave Richard and his co-founder, Bram Geenen, the opportunity to fly to the USA to meet other technology start-ups throughout the West Coast— which included a meeting with the Sacramento Kings.
Fast forward a few weeks later and SK has officially announced the project, along with the involvement of St. Francis High School and Jesuit High School in Sacremento. These two schools will be competing to build a telepresence-enabled InMoov for the new Sacremento Kings stadium. When the InMoov is ready, the same kids who experienced the game “courtside” using virtual reality back in 2014 will now have the opportunity to not just see players but high-five and talk to them using this community built 3D printed avatar, which we think is pretty cool.
So that’s the story so far.
If you would like to get involved, have any questions or think you can help, get in touch with firstname.lastname@example.org OR signup to our InMoov Robots For Good mailing list to receive a free InMoov Robots For Good Starter Kit.
The starter kit includes all the design files and assembly instructions you need to start making a 3D printed telepresence robot to help hospitalized children in your local area.
But most importantly, let’s take a moment to recognise the incredible work of Gael Langevin. Without his contribution, none of this would be possible. He designed an entire 3D printable human-sized robot from scratch and decided to share it with the world.