This is me with a gripper I invented as part of my PhD. It had a sense of touch, but even now my finger tips are better than any robot at distinguishing silk from satin. That’s why I need a partial exoskeleton so I can carry on being able to touch things.
So, is this stream primarily electromechanics? I don’t think it is. In my mind, there may be a physical input/output device but at its core this stream is all AI and VR.
OK, I do envision some stylish exoskeleton arms and gauntlets (with gaps for my fingertips and palms to touch surfaces and distinguish textures). And I also envision a rather cool exoskeleton neck (tailored for a tracheostomy) that’s capable of turning and nodding my head so I can at least look around. I mean, how dumb would it be to let someone with MND spend the rest of their life just sitting still only ever looking forward?!?
But – you’ll be picking up the theme by now – for even this partial exoskeleton to work needs sophisticated AI to allow me to control it through very-high-level instructions using only my eyes. As ever, I envision being offered options – exactly as when I’m in immersive VR. Indeed, it really will be exactly as when I’m in cyberspace because they will be the same options. Why should it feel any different in the physical world?
Whether I am ‘escaping’ from a room by opening a door by turning its handle, or coordinating movement between both my arms, or reaching out and touching someone I love, I will do them all in exactly the same way in cyber-reality as in space-time reality. Both are my expanded reality.
And this is where it starts to get intriguing. Most people assume that, self-evidently, an exoskeleton’s only purpose is to interact with the physical world. But in my case, it will serve an equally important second role: it will allow me to feel interactions in the Virtual world. Because none of my voluntary muscles will work, my sensations when my exoskeleton moves my arms, experiences resistance, hits something, is weighed down, bounces back – are identical whichever reality I am in.
So, I may look like I’m just wearing an innocuous exoskeleton, but in truth I’m wearing the ultimate cyber suit that any futuristic VR gamer would trade a lifetime of credits for!