Children gather around a tour guide robot being tested at an airport.
A new Tour Guide Robot is finally being tested after years of on-and-off development. The project began in 2006, when professors from the Gifu National College of Technology and Aichi Institute of Technology began working on a simple mobile robot that balanced on two wheels. Using an inverted pendulum model, it would immediately right itself if pushed from the front or back. The robot used both an accelerometer and a gyro sensor to maintain accuracy even when disturbed by bumps or ramps. However, due to budget constraints the robot couldn’t be completed at that time.
Then in 2008 came the design proposal by Associate Prof. Nakagawa (Osaka University of Arts). His sketches, which incorporated whimsical elements like a small bird on the robot’s shoulder, would go through some slight changes. The bird made it through to a non-working prototype but was eventually axed, and the height was reduced from 120cm (4′) to 90cm (3′) so as not to intimidate children.
Rather than replacing people, this guide robot would tag along with a human instructor to help out. Watching a live video feed from the robot’s on board camera, a museum official could remotely operate the robot using a standard game controller and laptop PC. On board microphones and speakers would allow verbal communication with visitors, who are given the option of a headset and tablet PC.
In 2010 a prototype of the robot was showcased at the 28th Annual Conference of the Robotics Society of Japan. It wasn’t until 2011 that Takeda Design and Manufacturing produced components out of fiber reinforced plastic and wood, ensuring the robot would be both light weight and safe. The group’s original plan to build and commercialize a practical service robot has finally come true.
Asahi | Robonable