Toyota and Waseda University have developed a system enabling the assisted-living robot TWENDY-ONE and people to pass each other safely. Publicly unveiled in 2007, the robot was designed and built by researchers from Waseda University’s Sugano Laboratory to help the elderly or disabled lead more independent lives. The ongoing project is part of a METI (Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry) plan to build a functional assisted-living robot by 2015.
Normally robots will simply come to a stop or take evasive action to avoid bumping into people and causing injury. However, this requires more space and time than the the newly-developed system, which allows people to pass by the robot safely even in close quarters without having to wait. TWENDY-ONE uses its stereoscopic vision and ultrasonic range sensors to detect if a person is walking towards it on either side and even determines if they are in a hurry. Experiments in a narrow corridor measuring 1.8 meters (5’10″) tested the robot’s ability to quickly adjust its position using its omni-directional base. People can even push the robot to move it aside using just a little force. The system improves both safety and efficiency, and is expected to enhance the feeling of natural coexistence between humans and robots.
Similar systems have been developed for Honda’s humanoid robot ASIMO in 2007. When ASIMO detects a person is walking towards it, it stops and yields the right of way. Additionally, Hitachi’s EMIEW 2 can detect human walking patterns using its laser range finder, allowing the robot to predict the moment when they will pass so it may take evasive action.