Tokyo University’s IRT (Information & Robotic Technology Research Institute) was formed in April of 2008 to tackle the problems of Japan’s declining birthrate and aging population. Their current projects, including the Assistant Robot, have major financial backing from Toyota, Olympus, SEGA, Toppan, Fujitsu, Panasonic and Mitsubishi. This fruitful partnership extends beyond just funding, with Toyota producing many of the mechanical components and Fujitsu providing state of the art computer vision software.
The Assistant Robot is 155cm tall, weighs 130kg, and has 32 DOF. A total of five cameras adorn its head (2 wide-angle stereo cameras, 2 telescopic cameras, and 1 omnidirectional camera) and a laser range finder and ultrasonic sensors located near its base provide obstacle detection. It moves on a combination of 6 wheels, and has a current battery life of approximately 30 minutes to 1 hour.
Three main features distinguish the AR. First, a combination of laser range finder and stereo image data allow it to recognize features in its environment, such as furniture, tools, and laundry. Second, it has SLAM (simultaneous localization and mapping) paired with a three-dimensional virtual model of itself and surroundings which is constantly updated to include data such as where a particular item is stored, or where a person is. And finally, it has robust failure detection capabilities to ensure it gets the job done, if at first it does not succeed.
Currently the robot is being programmed to perform cleaning duties such as sweeping the floor, picking up stray objects, and loading a washer with dirty clothes. Doing the dishes or laundry is made all the more complicated by the lack of home networking between the robot and home appliances, which means the robot has to operate the appliances manually. The robot can fetch items from closed drawers, such as medication for its elderly owner, or push buttons on a washing machine.
This IRT project aims to have a commercial model in mass production in 10 to 20 years’ time, retailing for approximately $10,000 USD each. By that time, battery technology should be significantly improved making the robot more practical and streamlined.
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