Giant VR Robots Are Building Railways In Japan

Could VR-powered humanoid robots be the future of heavy construction?

Over the years we’ve seen a number of major corporations try their hands at marrying VR technology and robotics, from VR convenience store employees and a remote-controlled bomb squad bot to a rather unsettling headset that uses a robot arm to hand-feed delicious candy. And that’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

Earlier this month, JR West—a major railroad transportation company operating out of Japan—revealed plans to use giant VR-powered robots in the construction of future railroad lines. The multifunctional railway heavy equipment is comprised of a railroad construction vehicle merged with a humanoid heavy robot, resulting in a sort of blue-collar Transform.

First reported by Mynavi, the mechanical contraption was developed in collaboration with Nippon Signal, a railway signal technology company, as a way to increase productivity while improving workplace safety. According to JR West, VR-enabled robots will reduce on-site accidents, such as electric shock and crashes, by removing the need for direct human intervention.

The system is surprisingly straightforward. Operators sit in the driving cab and use an HP Reverb G2 VR headset to view the world from the perspective of the robot. A large control panel is used to operate two mechanical arms equipped with dual clamps, allowing users to interact with various machinery in detail. Operators will supposedly be able to feel the weight of objects as they work, offering a more intuitive and natural experience.

JR West is currently in the process of testing its heavy equipment robot before making the technology available for use in the Spring of 2024. While designed for railroad construction, it’s easy to how the system could be adapted to serve other practical use-cases throughout a variety of industries. The company’s VR robot could theoretically be used for operating on powerlines, demolition, roofing and high-rise work, and various other high-risk scenarios.

For more information on JR West’s heavy equipment VR robot visit here. You can check out more images below:

Image Credit: JR West

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