Yaskawa has been developing industrial robots since the late 1970s, with their Motoman series of dexterous manipulators having shipped more than 10 million units worldwide. As part of NEDO’s next generation robot program, they created a service robot called SmartPal in 2005. Co-developed with the Kyushu Institute of Information Technology to interact with people, the robot is equipped with a camera for image processing, has a touch panel for entering commands, and speech recognition and synthesis for communication purposes (which functioned even during noisy showfloor demonstrations).
SmartPal has two 7 DOF arms, force sensors in the robot’s wrists to ensure the arms don’t smash into things, and both hands have three fingers with 3 DOF, covered in tactile sensors, allowing it to pick up objects. SmartPal was demonstrated in a mock cafeteria setting picking up selected menu items and delivering them on trays. The robot stands 135cm (4’4″) tall, weighs 115kg (253 lbs) and moves on wheels at a rate up to 2.8km/h using a laser range finder, touch sensors, and distance sensors for obstacle detection. Multiple SmartPals can communicate with one another to coordinate actions, as well as with peripheral systems (such as elevators) over wifi.
Robots like this have the potential to one day assist in a variety of structured environments, as evidenced by one experiment where SmartPal fetched clothing hanging on IC-tagged hangers for a disabled individual. Using its speech recognition capabilities, the robot was able to determine which articles of clothing to bring based on their verbally identified colors and brand names. The original SmartPal was upgraded to the SmartPal V model in 2007. The newer model is able to bend at the waist, allowing it to pick up objects from the floor. Video and media of the original SmartPal follow after the break.
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