Skip to main content

Controlling these robotic arms was the coolest thing I did at CES 2020

(Image credit: Future)

When I was a kid, I had what I thought was a pretty cool toy: the Radio Shack Armatron. It was an articulating arm with pincers at the end that you controlled using two joysticks to pick things up and move them around. At CES 2020, I got to play with the adult version. 

The Tactile Telerobot is a pair of robotic arms with hands, which you control using a pair of gloves. The gloves have sensors in them, so as you move them around in space, the Telerobot mimics your movements. Similarly, if you move your fingers, the robotic fingers do the same. 

(Image credit: Future)

The tips of the robotic fingers have pressure, vibration, and thermal sensors, and as you grip something, that pressure gets translated back to haptic sensors in the gloves. For example, when I picked up an object with the Telerobot, I could feel the pressure of that object on my fingertips. It's amazingly sensitive — there's 130 points of feedback in the glove — and so precise that I was able to gently grasp a plastic cup without crushing it at all.

The Tactile Telerobot is the product of the Converge Robotics Group, a consortium of three companies, all of which provided one technological aspect of the robot. Shadow Robot Company provided the robotic hands, Haptx supplied the haptic gloves, and Tangible Research helped the two products work together. Universal Robots made the arms, while Syntouch developed the tactile sensors for the robotic hands.

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

It's amazingly intuitive to use, too. Within minutes of me donning the gloves, I was able to pull individual cups off a stack, arrange the cups in a pyramid, and even gently place a ball atop the pyramid. The arms moved as fast or as slow as I did, with almost no latency whatsoever. The robotic hands had just as much dexterity as the ones at the ends of my arms. 

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

A representative from the company explained that the Tactile Telerobot (they need to come up with a better name, IMO) is intended for use in industrial, clinical, or other situations where direct human contact is not possible, but requires a great deal of precision. The Telerobot can be tethered to the controller as I used it, or operated remotely over the Internet. 

I was really impressed with how easy—and how fun—the Tactile Telerobot was to use. Now, they just have to make a version for personal use.