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Affordable VR-Controlled ‘Bartender’ Robotic Arm Can Be Operated From Anywhere

January 07, 2021 by Luke James

UK-based Extend Robotics has announced a successful trial of a VR (virtual reality)-based remote-controlled robot. Living up to its name, R:O:B: (for ‘robotically-optimised bartender’) has accurately poured pints of beer when being controlled by a remote human operator.

The Importance of Teleoperated Robotics

Teleoperated robotics has risen to prominence in recent years (particularly in applications that involve the military, healthcare, space, and underwater exploration). These so-called ‘service robotics’ exceeded $17 billion in sales in 2019, and, according to the IFR (International Federation of Robotics), the rapidly growing market is expected to hit $55 billion by 2023.

Teleoperated robotics are primarily used in two scenarios: i) one in which it is unsafe for a human to operate, and ii) one in which it is too challenging to rely on a programmed robot to carry out complex tasks itself. 

Now, Extend Robotics, a UK-based innovator in teleoperated robotics, has announced the successful trial of its VR-controlled cybernetic drinks server, known as R:O:B: (for ‘robotically-optimised bartender’). According to the company, R:O:B: features near-perfect human-like dexterity and is capable of ‘pulling’ and serving a real pint of lager. And while this doesn’t meet either of the two typical use cases mentioned above, such an achievement marks a big step forward for teleoperated robotics in general.


A close-up of the 'robotically-optimised bartender' as it prepares to pour a pint of beer

Image credit: Extended Robotics.


A Human-like, VR-controlled Robotic Arm

Extend Robotics says that its VR-controlled robotic arm features genuine, real-time, immersive, and intuitive control; plus, it has reachability of up to six degrees of freedom (or DoF). All of these qualities allow the teleoperated machine to be controlled easily and remotely by a human operator.

The robotic arm has been developed in-house at Extend’s headquarters in Reading, England. A video of the robot being remote-controlled by a human VR operator can be viewed here.  

“At Extend Robotics, our vision is to extend human capability beyond physical presence,” said Dr Chang Liu, founder and CEO of Extend Robotics. Liu went on to say that it is the mission of Extend Robotics to “democratise dexterous teleoperation at scale” over the next few years. This is by designing cost-effective robotic arms that are capable of remote operation using cloud-based software from anywhere in the world.

Extend’s products are developed around their proprietary VR-based user interface for immersive 3D perception and intuitive control, scalable data-driven AI for future autonomy, and cloud-enabled access from anywhere in the world with 5G. The company plans for its robotic arm to be fully compatible with third-party mobility platforms and end effectors.


An Affordable Alternative

Teleoperated robotics that is capable of human-level dexterity currently cost upwards of £500,000, with current developments in gesture-based VR control systems for collaborative robotics struggling to overcome the problem of limited dexterity at a high cost. Extend Robotics claims that its robotic arm product will offer an alternative, simple, easy-to-use-, plug-and-play solution that’s highly dextrous at a low cost.  

“Our latest cybernetic bartender robot demo is a great example of an ‘out of the box’ teleoperated robot solution for the service and catering industry.

“We also plan to develop VR-controlled teleoperated robots featuring highly accurate, smooth and consistent, human-like movements to improve safety conditions and boost efficiencies across a number of other sectors: from agriculture and healthcare through to the utilities and energy industry,” Liu says.

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