TWENDY-ONE is the product of more than 10 years of research led by Professor Shigeki Sugano and his team of researchers at Waseda University, along with the cooperation of more than 20 private companies, to build a robot that co-exists with human beings in a super-aging society. Although it is easier to attract attention with entertaining bipedal robots, the researchers had the lofty goal of creating a practical robot that could safely assist the elderly in everyday tasks. The result is one of the world’s most advanced humanoid robots.
After developing key components for WENDY in 1999, in 2000 Associate Professor Hiroyasu Iwata became the project leader of what would be a 7 year endeavor to improve every aspect of WENDY’s design, keeping in mind the needs of a twenty-first century society. Although one could point to similar robots such as Yaskawa’s SmartPal V, KITECH’s SeRoPi, or DLR’s Justin, TWENDY-ONE is undeniably superior in a few key areas.
Its most innovative feature is its mechanical passive impedance mechanism, which is used throughout its body to adapt to unexpected external forces. It has a total of 47 degrees of freedom (2 hands x13, 2 arms x7, neck x3, body x4) and can move in virtually any direction. It can bend at the waist allowing it to pick up objects from the floor, and is strong enough to support a person’s weight (up to 35kg [77 lbs]) as they get out of bed or up from a chair. From a practical standpoint, this may not seem like enough, but actually statistics show that more than half of people requiring nursing care are relatively healthy and don’t require full assistance.
Its 4-fingered hands are notable for a variety of reasons. For example, the finger tips are soft but have a hard nail which the robot can use to pick up very small flat objects, such as coins. The fingers themselves conform to a wide variety of object shapes and sizes; in public demonstrations, TWENDY-ONE picked up a plastic drinking straw between its fingers, held a coffee mug from its handle, and easily grasped plastic bottles, cups, and oddly shaped fruits. This is made possible due to the hand’s distributed pressure sensors and passive joints. Each hand has 241 pressure sensors; the palm of the hand is covered in 108 (7.5 x 7.5mm), while the fingers have a total of 133 (4 x 4mm).
Special attention was paid to its appearance and materials, resulting in a human-friendly form with virtually no external wiring. Stereo CCD cameras provide vision data, a speaker for speech synthesis, and a 6-axis force sensor in its head allow it to sense human touch. The main idea behind the hardware design was a “soft machine”. It may be difficult to tell from the photos, but its body is covered with a soft, shock-absorbent silicone rubber skin which helps reduce the risk of injuring a bystander. Tactile sensors in its trunk detect if it is being pushed, and 12 ultrasonic sensors in its base detect the proximity of surrounding objects. A large LED array in its chest changes to reflect the robot’s internal state. It measures 146.7cm (4’9″) tall, and weighs 111kg (244 lbs).
TWENDY-ONE was first unveiled to the public on November 27th 2007, and met almost all of the criteria a full decade ahead of the goal set by METI (Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry) for such a robot. The goal is to develop the robot’s capabilities so that a practical model is ready for 2015. The expected cost of such a robot would be 10,000,000 ~ 20,000,000 JPY ($110,000 ~ $210,000 USD).
- Waseda University Sugano Lab site (JP/EN)
- TWENDY-ONE press release (JP)
- TWENDY-ONE @ PTC Pro Engineer
- TWENDY-ONE @ Mycom Journal (JP)
- TWENDY-ONE @ Platinum Serai, (2) (JP)
- TWENDY-ONE @ Tech On (JP)
- TWENDY-ONE @ Impress Robot Watch, (2), (3) (JP)
- TWENDY-ONE @ GetRobo
- TWENDY-ONE @ Robonable (JP)
- TWENDY-ONE @ CNN