It looks like Vecna Robotics’ battlefield soldier extraction robot Bear will have some competition thanks to a U.S. robotics start-up developing similar robots.
Formed by MIT alumni sometime around 2007, Hstar Technologies is partnering with a number of tech companies and medical institutions, including the Harvard Medical School and Veterans Hospital. Among their first products to enter the market will be the RehaBot, which exercises the upper and lower limbs of patients severely impaired by musculoskeletal and traumatic brain injuries.
Another major project in the works is RoNA (Robotic Nursing Assistant), which can lift and move patients in excess of 136 kg (300 lbs). As already pointed out by Japanese researchers working on a similar nursing assistant called RIBA, nurses risk serious injury when lifting patients. According to Hstar Technologies, nurses sustain more injuries than any other U.S. profession and most occur when moving patients.
“RoNA has a humanoid design featuring bimanual dexterous manipulators that employ a series-elastic-actuation (SEA) system. These electric actuators provide manipulator compliance, safety, flexibility and the strength to lift patients weighing up to 300lbs. RoNA also features an innovative humanoid upper torso, a unique mobile platform with holonomic drive and posture stability enhancement, intelligent navigation control with 3D sensing and perception capability, an intuitive and innovative human-robot interaction control interface, and a highly integrated plan for healthcare system assembly.”
The robot will be controlled directly by a nurse or physician, though it will have some degree of image and voice recognition. It also has a large screen in its chest allowing for telepresence functions, such as displaying a live video feed of a doctor.
While Vecna Robotics’ Bear can lift much more at 226 kg (500 lbs), RoNA nearly doubles the lifting strength of RIBA II which only manages 80 kg (176 lbs). The numbers are somewhat moot however, since neither Bear nor RIBA II are targeting the North American health care market.
Hstar Technologies plans to market a military version of the robot called cRoNA (with the “c” likely standing for casualty). It will be used to extract wounded soldiers from the battlefield, putting it in direct competition with Bear. However, Bear’s lead of several years (and its more powerful strength) will give it an edge if they’re comparable in price. The ability to move casualties without putting other soldiers in the line of fire has obvious benefits, but there’s yet another possible use for the robot.
A third version of the robot called DMan could perform unmanned materiel loading and unloading in commercial or military warehouses. It would take verbal commands from a dispatcher and move autonomously on its omni-directional wheels, allowing it to move in tight corners. It’s all based on the same platform but I personally prefer the look of the robots in the conceptual renderings more than the real one in the above photo. You can view a couple more renderings after the break.