Meet Aila, the German Robot Controlled From Russia With an Exoskeleton

When someone in the exoskeleton moves their hand in Russia, the robot moves its hand in Germany.

Nov 12 2016, 7:00pm

Meet AILA, a robot designed by the German Research Centre for Artificial Intelligence or DFKI. DFKI is kind of like a European DARPA more focused on building robots for exploration and human assistance instead of military applications.

AILA is one of their older robots. The team first revealed it in 2010, but AILA's adaptable and DFKI has recently been using the robot to show off CAPIO, its new passive exoskeleton system. The CAPIO is the world's fanciest joystick. It uses 8 different contact points on a complex exoskeleton to manipulate AILA in real time. A person wearing CAPIO moves their arm and AILA moves its arm in time. It's even equipped with haptic feedback so users get a sense of what AILA is touching.

Originally designed for logistics applications, AILA rolls around on six wheels, manipulating the world around it with two five fingered arms. DFKI even claims a series of advanced sensors in its hands allow it to feel its way around the environment. A built in RFID receiver lets it scan chipped products and a simple AI helps it sort those products. It's easy to see AILA doing the job of Amazon warehouse workers.

But DFKI thinks AILA can do much more and they're using the CAPIO to prove it. The exoskeleton allows users to take direct control of AILA and perform complex tasks it isn't designed to handle. A user wearing the CAPIO exoskeleton can move AILA around a room, flip switches, manipulate handles, and even pick up a stress ball with precision.

DFKI designed the CAPIO for use at a great distance and the concept video shows the robot moving around in a mockup of the International Space Station. Controlling a robot in space from Earth feels like a strech but the German scientists controlled an AILA in the German city Bremen using an exoskeleton in the Russian city Magnitogorsk.

That's a distance of more than 2,400 miles. The ISS is a mere 249 miles above Earth and the exoskeleton's signal could easily travel that distance. But exoskeleton controlled robots aren't just for space exploration.

DFKI and MIT are both working on similar technologies for use in disaster areas. There's even one guy who built a suit to control small Lego robots. Seems exoskeletons can be used for far more than heavy lifting.