It’s been awhile since we’ve seen an abstract female humanoid robot (see also April, FT and Kibo ver.1.2), so we’re happy to present OriHime. It was created by Kentaro Yoshifuji, a 4-year Engineering student at Waseda University, who felt compelled to build a new kind of communication robot. After graduating high school Kentaro took an interest in artificial intelligence. Therapeutic robots like the baby seal Paro were being introduced in hospitals, so he thought maybe a robot could become a kind of artificial friend. But after volunteering in hospitals and interacting with people, he realized that they really want to connect with other people.
While robotic wheelchairs, beds, and other equipment give more freedom to hospital patients, many still feel isolated and lonely. Young people with chronic illness can spend a lot of time in hospital, and because they don’t attend school they don’t get the chance to make many friends. And as the elderly population increases, and the traditional family home becomes fragmented, people tend to communicate less and less. His solution was a robot equipped with a camera so that a human operator could see a live video feed using an internet connection. By building a humanoid robot “avatar” capable of a variety of expressions and gestures, the feeling of communication could go beyond a simple telephone call to a sense of physical presence.
Design-wise he says he had no knowledge of humanoid robots, and didn’t take much interest in science fiction stories growing up. Everything except the servo motors had to be built from scratch through trial and error. Its face was kept simple on purpose, with eyes based on a feline. Rather than showing emotion through the face, which he admits looks a bit scary, the robot’s whole body conveys the operator’s mood. As a result, even a blank face begins to take on a certain character. He studied dancers and mimes at a festival and tried to incorporate the feeling of their movements into the robot. Technical details are scant, but it was completed in 2009, stands approximately 60cm (2′) tall, and has 24-26 degrees of freedom depending on the configuration.
Considering this is his first humanoid robot, we look forward to seeing what he comes up with next. So far the robot has already won an award (Waseda x Rohm Manufacturing prize), helped connect distant friends in Nara and Tokyo, and in the future he plans to correct some of the issues that have cropped up since its development. One more video and photos follow after the break.