KIST’s Humanoid Robot Research Center was established in 1994, and immediately began development of what is considered the country’s first humanoid robot. Some 15 PhDs and 70 researchers from various universities worked on the project, with some assistance from Hyundai Heavy Industries. Many, such as Dr. Munsang Kim, have continued to work on humanoid robots in the years since. The 8 billion KRW project (approximately $4.7 million USD at the time) was eventually completed in 1999.
It seems like more than just coincidence that they built CENTAUR following the Taejon Expo of ’93, where a nuclear inspection robot with a similar configuration appeared at the Japanese pavilion. In 1990 KAIST had built a quadruped walking robot called KAISER 2, but no bipedal robots had been developed in Korea, so CENTAUR relied on the stability provided by four legs. It was able to walk at a pace of 1 meter per minute, with its Lithium-ion battery lasting about 20 minutes.
CENTAUR stood 1.8 meters (5’11″) tall and weighed 150 kg (330 lbs), or 180kg (397 lbs) with its battery. It was said to contain 73 motors, 160 sensors, and 6 CPUs with a total of 37 degrees of freedom (mouth x1, neck x2, trunk x2, 2 arms x7, 2 hands x3, 4 legs x3). For complex tasks its upper-body could be teleoprated by a human wearing a special vest.
Its arms could lift 1 kg each and its three-fingered hands were equipped with miniature fingertip sensors that allowed it to hold a cup without spilling it or an egg without cracking it. Stereo cameras in its head provided object recognition and some distance sensing. It had limited speech recognition, allowing it to perform tasks upon voice command.
The Korean press was quick to point out that, while CENTAUR did not compare favorably with Honda’s bipedal P2 and P3 (both of which were unveiled during its development), it was made in half the time and with a fraction of the budget. According to Dr. Lee Jong-won, building CENTAUR was necessary to develop the fundamental technologies associated with humanoid robots.
The CENTAUR project paved the way for KIST’s bipedal robots, such as Dr. Munsang Kim’s Kibo 2. Early in the new millenium Samsung expressed interest in developing humanoid service robots, and this collaboration led to the development of the Mahru and Ahra humanoids. Recently, CENTAUR has taken up residence at Seoul Museum of History in an exhibit celebrating KIST’s 15 years of robot development.
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