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The Boston Globe

Ideas

My day as a robot

Telepresence allows you to leap impossible distances, and even feel like a bit of a celebrity. But how “there” can you really feel when your body is 350 miles away?

TORONTO/NEW YORK — The robot hand has been wrapped in artificial skin in order to make it feel more human, the professor from Japan is explaining. Hearing this, I want to take a quick, discreet glance around to see if everybody else in the room thinks it’s as weird as I do, but I can’t. Like them, I am getting to see this talk because I’m attending a massive conference on human-computer interaction, which has brought thousands from around the world to a convention center in Toronto. But unlike them, I’m not quite there.

Hideyuki Nakanishi explains that he and his team from Osaka University have built a “remote handshaking system” that gives the power of touch to people video-chatting with each other through a screen. By sliding your real hand into the fake one attached to your monitor, you can gauge the confidence in a prospective business partner’s grip, feel your far-away girlfriend’s fingers, or greet your father-in-law with a manly shake. The hand even maintains human body temperature, so when you touch it, it’ll be warm, just like real flesh.

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