It was back in 2007 that Yaskawa (known for their “MOTOMAN” line of industrial manufacturing robots) unveiled the last in its line of service robots, and I was beginning to worry that the project had been quietly put to sleep. Alas, my fears were all for naught as Yaskawa is showing off the latest version of SmartPal at IREX 2011.
The new design features numerous improvements over SmartPal V, including a head which gives it some much needed personality. Apparently the missing SmartPal VI (which hasn’t been shown publicly) is still just being used for research purposes. This slide from an October 2011 presentation shows the new features.
The new pan/tilt sensor head comes equipped with an infrared sensor (detects humans) and a stereo camera rig. This one also has a soft padding on its arms with embedded touch sensors to improve safety. And besides some minor refinements like slimming the arms and adding a yaw axis to its waist, they’re using a non-contact power supply to recharge its batteries. Like the SmartPal V, this model can bend to pick up objects from the floor, which the company is calling a “stoop axis”. With these changes, the new SmartPal looks quite a bit like Tokyo University’s Assistant Robot (which has been MIA for quite some time).
As you can see in the video, they’re using a joystick to control its movement, and a Kinect sensor to control the arm. Apparently the idea is to use it as a telepresence robot. It wasn’t that long ago that IREX was sort of depressing for lack of cool robot projects, but it seems like Japan is bouncing back into things again which is great to see.