XPrize Foundation Contest: $10M If You Can Build a Working Robot Avatar

Wednesday, 14 March 2018 - 1:41PM
Artificial Intelligence
Wednesday, 14 March 2018 - 1:41PM
XPrize Foundation Contest: $10M If You Can Build a Working Robot Avatar
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Image credit: YouTube
It's hard to ignore the appeal of the robot avatar. Fans of science fiction in general, and video games in particular, dream of the day when they can send a robotic Life Model Decoy of themselves out into the world while staying safe at home.

The technology is almost there by this point, but things need a little push before we can finally enjoy responsive remote-control robot suits. That's why the nonprofit XPrize Foundation is beginning a new contest. The team of scientists that can first create a practical, working robot avatar will be awarded a cool $10 million for their trouble.

The applications for this kind of technology would revolutionize modern life. For one thing, emergency service workers would be able to enter dangerous situations without fearing for their lives - they could perform difficult tasks and save lives while being tucked away safely at a headquarters miles away.

Even more widely applicable, though, would be the potential for this technology to change daily activities for millions of people around the world. Imagine, for example, if you needed to take an important business trip to meet with some colleagues in another country, but you didn't want to lose hours of your day to flying in a cramped, uncomfortable plane to get there. With avatar technology, you could simply take control of a robot body that was already in the local area, and suddenly have a real, physical presence within a meeting room.

This isn't quite teleportation, but it's close. Sure, these suits would probably be useless for leisure activities (at least at first), but there are a lot of things that could be done easily remotely thanks to the power of a cool robot body.

According to Peter Diamandis, the founder of the XPrize Foundation:

Opening quote
"It's a vision of the future where you don't have to physically get on an airplane to go someplace. I occupy the robots through my senses, so we can distribute expertise and capabilities where they are needed, almost instantaneously."
Closing quote

A lot of the technology for this kind of device is in its infancy—haptic suits can give wearers physical touch feedback from a distance, and we've long had the ability to build remote control robots. The International Space Station even has a humanoid robot astronaut that's controlled by operators back on Earth (although it is currently very broken).

The biggest problem here is that the technology isn't yet very responsive - there can be a delay between stimuli reaching the user, and between the user's control decisions and the robot's movements. This system would need to have near zero latency in order to work right, or else it'll feel like a high-tech equivalent of waving a Nintendo Wii controller around in the vague hope that you return a tennis volley.

While news of this XPrize might sound exciting, there's no guarantee that is will definitely be awarded. There are cases of previous XPrizes being canceled, either because no scientific team seemed capable of completing a certain challenge by the given deadline, or because technology advanced so fast in a given field that the entire contest seemed unnecessary.

If you've ever had dreams of creating a revolutionary piece of technology, this is one contest that you can aim to enter yourself, should you have the right tools at your disposal.

Just be aware that you probably won't win for turning in a manikin taped to a Segway. The Foundation is looking for something slightly more advanced than that.
Artificial Intelligence