#18ThingsVRMightBe: Distributed Adventure Bots

Travel the Universe for Science



The deep sea is a big place. Scientists have been exploring the deep sea for years, but one of the problems they encounter is that there is so much sea for so few people exploring it. This class of problem has been solved before.

Wikipedia brought people together to contribute to the worlds largest, open encyclopedia.

Fold.It used a large, open community to solve protein folding puzzles. In turn, researchers can create more precise and effective drugs.

Captcha asks humans to solve visual puzzles that robots can’t. And, a version called reCaptcha, had humans type the text of books which computers had difficulty reading, effectively helping digitize loads of books.

Wikipedia, Fold.It, and Captcha

What can we learn from this and apply to exploration?

Open. Each system lets anyone contribute. It’s a great way to get to amass a large data set. And, for Fold.It and Captcha, multiple people can find similar solutions, increasing the importance of that solution.

Large. Many people contributed to each system. These systems are only meaningful if there are many contributors.

Need or interest. Everyone uses Wikipedia, even academics. People are interested in learning more about the world. Fold.It is fun to play, so it hits the interest side. Captcha gets its input by making people who are submitting online forms to type what they see — these users need to submit the form, so they’re (usually) happy to do a Captcha.

Let’s bring these together for virtual reality and exploration.

A Possible Solution: Distributed Adventure Bots

What if you could explore a far off land, ocean floor, or alien landscape and while you do that help scientists make new discoveries?

The idea is to release hundreds of drones into the area of interest: the ocean, forests, on other planets, or anywhere else. These drones can operate autonomously, at least to the extent that they can maintain themselves and return home when needed.

This robot, Spot, is developed by Boston Dynamics, now owned by Google. What if users could control and use Spot to explore interesting places?

Now, open this up to the Internet. Allow anyone to control a drone from their couch and VR headset. Let the user know what they are looking for and then let them search by controlling the drone or robot. Certain users could be kicked out if they abuse the system while others who do exceptionally well could be rewarded.

  • How many new species would we find if we sent these bots to the bottom of the ocean?
  • How many missing persons could be found if we let people controlling drones join the rest of the search party?
  • What could students learn if they could travel to far off lands via VR, robots, and telepresence?

Give people multiple cameras: normal light spectrum, infrared, UV, maybe even radio. Let users sense things that they couldn’t before and find whatever is of interest. With a virtual reality headset, they can become more immersed in the new environment than they could have with a laptop.

Let’s explore what’s out there.