The rubber hand illusion consists in placing one’s left arm out of sight and placing in front of the eyes of the subject a rubber hand. Then the experimenter strokes the index finger of the subject’s left hand and at the same time the index finger of the rubber hand. This synchronous stoking is done for two minutes. Test results show that 2/3 of the subjects start experiencing the rubber hand as if it belonged to their body.
Remarkably H.H. Ehrsson and his colleagues extended the technique to the whole body, in a study called ‘If I Were You: Perceptual Illusion of Body Swapping’. Here the human subject wears a headset and looks down at his own body. However, what he actually sees is a mannequin, viewed from a camera mounted on the mannequin’s head. Simultaneous tactile and visual feedback triggers the illusion that the mannequin’s body is his own.
Now imagine such a body self-image modification technology combined with fully immersive robot tele-operation based on advanced Virtual Reality technology. I think this might lead to the robot’s human operator experiencing the illusion of being one with the robot, complete with a body self-image that matches the robot’s possibly non-humanoid body. This experience may be so convincing that the robot’s operator experiences, at least partially, something like what it is to be a robot.
— Alan Winfield, professor of robotics at UWE Bristol.