David Hanson of Hanson Robotics has been developing a synthetic skin called Frubber and expressive humanoid heads for several years, including the head for KAIST’s Albert HUBO. One of his pet projects has been an expressive little humanoid called Zeno, the hero of the Singularity in a sci-fi universe set in the 2020s. Now Hanson’s Texas-based company has launched Hanson Robokind, a line of open-source educational humanoid robots including Zeno for $14,750. That’s quite a bit more than the figures that have been quoted in the past, and is primarily due to Robokind’s many degrees of freedom powered by Robotis Dynamixel servos. If you don’t need the robot to walk or make facial expressions, there are some cheaper options:
- $14,750: Expressive head w/ full body (33 DOF)
- $11,500: Non-expressive head w/ full body (25 DOF)
- $10,500: Expressive head w/ upper-body (20 DOF)
- $8,500: Expressive head w/ static body (10 DOF)
Right off the bat I’m confused about the pricing, especially for the “cheapest” option that has a non-operational body. In that option, the body is static plastic (no servos) like any large action figure or doll you can find at the toy store. Based on the prices of the two high end options the cost of the expressive head alone should be closer to $3,250, with perhaps a couple hundred extra for the plastic body parts ($8,500 seems a little high). The company hopes to market a commercial version by 2013.
In any case, what sets Robokind apart from any other robot on the market is its expressive head, which comes in four flavors: Zeno, Einstein, Alice, and Geo (a non-expressive type). The included software allows you to animate the robot’s face; the brows furl, the eyelids blink, the eyes move independently, and the lips can open, frown, and smile. The robot also comes equipped with sensors: 2 high-definition cameras (1 in each eye) for stereoscopic vision; 2 microphones (near the ears); a 9-axis inertial measurement unit; and touch sensors. Speakers allow the robot to hold simple conversations using a text-to-speech engine. It also comes with an embedded PC, but the full specs have yet to be released.
For the time being, Robokind is being marketed as a research robot that can be used to study anything from autism to A.I. (through RoboCup). The video doesn’t do a good job of showing how well the robot can actually walk, so I’m interested in seeing how it measures up compared to the NAO or DARwIn-OP, but the key factor here is undoubtedly the animated faces. Another video and some photos follow after the break.
Video (9 mins):