Avatar has taken one giant leap towards becoming real thanks to some Japanese robotics boffins. Their new Telesar V gives wearers of a head-mounted display, some vest-mounted sensors and a special pair of gloves the ability to not only control a robot, but see, hear and feel what it does too.

Sensors on the gloves, HMD and vest detect your movements making the robot mimic your body, while an array of sensors on the robot allow the human operator to sense things. As the robot’s hand touches something you can feel whether it’s smooth or rough, hot or cold, while stereoscopic cameras give you a 3D view from within the HMD. You can even talk through the machine.

While it’s not quite Avatar just yet, the system reminds me of Surrogates, where you control a robot that goes out into the world for you. Indeed one of the researchers, Sho Kamuro, even told the AFP:

"When I put on the devices and move my body, I see my hands having turned into the robot hands. When I move my head, I get a different view from the one I had before. It's a strange experience that makes you wonder if you've really become a robot.”

The system isn’t quite ready for the rigours of front line service just yet – it’s still in the prototype stage. Professor Susumu Tachi of Keio University in Tokyo has big plans for his robot though. He wants to make it available for work in places that are toxic to human health like Fukushima.

Imagine being able walk into the middle of the highly radioactive site and work, all from the comfort and safety of a remote control booth somewhere miles away – now that really would be awesome and sure beats just stroking a cat. [PhysOrg - AFP]