For sick children confined to hospitals, nothing could be more exciting yet more out of reach than a trip to the zoo. Whereas that idea was once impossible, it may become a reality — or at least a virtual reality — thanks to the efforts of the good folks at Wevolver.
Richard Hulskes is the co-founder of that Web platform that allows users to collaborate on open-source hardware projects. After a visit to Maker Faire in New York several months ago, Hulskes came back to London with an idea of connecting a humanoid-looking robot called InMoov to an oculus rift, a virtual reality head-mounted display, so local sick kids could go on a zoo tour. The missing piece was getting these combined technologies mobile, which is what Hulskes newly created unit, Robots for Good, is now attempting to do.
Not Impossible Now recently connected with Hulskes to talk about the status of that project, which aims to take sick children at London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital on a virtual visit to the London Zoo. He also discussed Wevolver’s new partnership with e-NABLE.
NIN: You kicked off Robots for Good to get the InMoov Explorer to interface with the oculus rift a couple of months ago so sick youngsters can visit the London Zoo. How is this project going?
Richard Hulskes: It's going really well. We set up collaborations with the school of Great Ormond Street in London and the London Zoo and at this moment are building and testing the first version of the InMoov and the connection with the oculus rift. Also, we are talking to Somerset House to get a public space so the people of London can come and see the building process in action.
Your goal is to achieve this within 12 months of its launch. What is the status now?
Hulskes: The status is that we are halfway building the first prototype. When this is done than we will hopefully open the public space where we will build the final version.
How far-flung are your volunteers who have enlisted to help assemble it?
Hulskes: The core team of the first prototype is mostly all based in the same location at Makerversity in Somerset House, except the myRobotlab team. They work on the software and are based in the U.S. The creator of the InMoov is based in Paris, France and the OpenWheels team, who created the wheels for the robot, is based in Italy.
Can you speak to the work with Ultimaker, the printing company with the emphasis on education, and the children will actually be making this mobile robot?
Hulskes: Ultimaker and Faberdashery provided us with 3D-printers and filament, which gave us the power to produce parts quicker. Since Ultimaker are heavily involved in getting 3D-printing into education, they are looking at local schools that could help 3D-print and build the InMoov robot.
Is there a prototype of the robot now?
Hulskes: Yes, it's in our office at Makerversity at Somerset House. We are printing all the parts and have already assembled the head and arms.
What other applications do you see this mobile InMoov Explorer having?
Hulskes: The great thing is that due to its open nature, people can use the robot any way they want. There are people talking about using it in elderly homes so that users can log in on the robot from home and visit, for instance, their parents using the robot as a real live avatar.
Are there plans to expand the uses of the mobile robot to, say, the classroom, a playground, a park, Disney World etc.?
Hulskes: We are in touch with teams in the U.S., Canada, Brazil, the Netherlands and France, who want to start building the InMoov Explorer. Every country has their own locations they want to collaborate with. Some want the robot to go to the zoo, some to amusement parks, aquariums and even wildlife parks. This means kids all over the world will have the opportunity to not just visit the zoo, but they have a range of choices they could go to. Maybe, in time, even the moon!
Can you talk about the new partnership with e-NABLE?
Hulskes: Wevolver helps project-creators of Open Hardware projects document their work in a way that makes it accessible to a broad audience. Communities like e-NABLE are a huge inspiration to us, and one of the reasons we started Wevolver in the first place. e-NABLE is making a huge impact in the world of people missing a limb. Right now our team is helping e-NABLE to structure their work in a way that makes it easier for other people to start building their technology and make it spread even faster.
Top photo courtesy of Wevolver