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2011: Year in Review

As the year comes to a close, it’s time to look back at our top ten favorite robot stories from 2011.

10. Infographic: Small Humanoid Robots in Research

We put together an infographic featuring some of the small-scale bipedal robots used in research.  The general critera for inclusion was an on board CPU and a camera (except for the HRP-2M Next), and the robot had to have arms and legs.

9. Pneuborns

Researchers from Osaka University’s Hosoda Lab created a pair of baby robots powered by pneumatic muscles that were unusually cute.  The robots proved to be quite popular online, and the story was even picked up by mainstream publications like Wired.

8. Nursing Assistant RIBA-II

Riken & Tokai Rubber completed a new and improved version of their nursing assistant robot, which uses powerful arms to life patients into and out of bed and wheelchairs.  Although the robot was designed to alleviate the burden placed on care workers, a recent survey explains why hospitals are reticent to begin trials.  Of the 460 respondents, half were worried of potential accidents, and about one-third were unsure of the robot’s cost-effectiveness.

7. Zhejiang University’s Ping-Pong playing robots

A new pair of bipedal humanoid robots, developed over four years at Zhejiang University, were shown to the public for the first time.  The demonstration involved the robots playing a round of table tennis against each other as well as human reporters.  Although not designed specifically for playing the game, the researchers felt it would be a fun project to test the limits of the technology.

6. Dr. Guero’s bicycling robot

Dr. Guero programmed his Kondo KHR-3HV hobby robot kit to ride a miniature bicycle; the first of its kind to do so.  Although Murata Manufacturing’s mascot, Murata Boy, is able to ride his bicycle with much greater precision, Dr. Guero’s robot had a budget roughly 1/25th that of Murata Boy.  Meanwhile, the cycling portion of the Iron Man Triathlon was completed by Panasonic’s miniature EVOLTA robot, but it required training wheels to stay upright.

5. Kibo ver.2 appears at Robot World 2011

The Center for Intelligent Robotics, a division of the Korean Institute of Science and Technology (KIST), unveiled a new version of their expressive bipedal robot Kibo.  In the past few years CIR has been focusing on educational robotics rather than humanoid robots, so this came as a pleasant surprise.  Standing 120cm (4′) tall – the same height as the first ASIMO – Kibo ver.2 dwarfs its predecessors.

4. Rollin’ Justin Plays Catch & 3. DLR’s impact-resistant hand-arm system

The German Aerospace Agency’s (DLR) produced some very impressive work this year.  Their humanoid-on-wheels Rollin’ Justin was able to catch balls thrown in its direction with 80% accuracy, and they proved the durability of a new hand-arm system by smacking it with a baseball bat.

2. All-new ASIMO revealed

In the past few years, it was beginning to look like Honda was winding down its R&D efforts on humanoid robots.  Switching gears, the company showcased a number of walk-assist and personal mobility vehicles while seemingly letting ASIMO’s development stagnate.  But then in early November Honda unveiled All-new ASIMO, and impressed us with its new hands, its ability to hop, and a faster running speed of 9kph (5.6 mph).

1. Boston Dynamics PETMAN starts to shape up

In October of 2009, Boston Dynamics’ PETMAN was just a pair of legs taken from the company’s robotic mule BigDog.  This year a more complete version was revealed which sports new legs along with an upper-body and arms.  PETMAN is distinguished by its naturalistic gait, which more closely replicates human walking than any other robot, and possesses the same reactive balancing capabilities that made BigDog an internet sensation.  While dynamically balanced bipeds of this size have been developed before, none have been anywhere near as capable.

2011 has had its fair share of exciting new developments, hasn’t it?  We’re looking forward to seeing what the new year will bring.  We’re in the process of revamping certain aspects of the site, and we’ll be adding a few other features soon (if you’ve seen some weird stuff happening on the site, it’s because we’ve had some difficulty with the implementation).

Lately, it seems we’ve run out of robot-related documentaries to review (if you know of any, please send them to us).  As a result, we’ll probably switch to reviewing more movies.

Last but not least, I’d like to thank you – the reader!  Thanks for coming and best wishes for 2012!

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