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U of Arizona Researchers Build Bipedal Robot

Dr. M. Anthony Lewis, Director of the Robotics and Neural Systems Lab at the University of Arizona, and Theresa J. Klein (PhD student) have been working on a biarticulate muscle leg model.  In a paper published in 2008 (available at the lab’s website), they describe how motors pulled on stiff, tendon-like Kevlar straps to reproduce the action of key muscle groups.

Their new biped robot features an improved leg design that models even more muscles.  And it’s already walking (though it relies on a babywalker-like support for balance).  It stands 55 cm (22″) tall with the legs fully extended and weighs approximately 4.5 kg (10 lbs).




EveR-4 Appears at Expo 2012 Yeosu Korea

The Korean Institute of Industrial Technology’s (KITECH) Robotics Fusion Research Group has unveiled the fourth generation in its line of gynoids, known as EveR-4, at the robotics pavilion of Expo 2012 Yeosu Korea. Dr. Dong-Wook Lee (39) and a colleague have been developing the female androids since 2005, and suggests this version is capable of more realistic expressions thanks to a new artificial tongue.

EveR-4 stands 180 cm (5’11″) tall and was designed to look like a receptionist to give speeches and interact with people.  It attempts to replicate the complex assortment of muscles in the human head with no less than 30 motors, which Dr. Lee says is a world record.  He admits that there isn’t much demand for androids at the moment, but said that could change in the future as theme parks around the world adopt Disney’s automated approach.

The gynoid may also find work as a theater “actress” through synchronized voice performance, facial expressions, lip synch, and body gestures.  Previous models (and those built in Japan) are used to study not only human-robot interaction but the convergence of technology and the arts and humanities.  However, like most other androids it cannot stand up or walk under its own power, and its spoken lines would likely be performed by a human because artificial speech still leaves something to be desired.  Currently, only the HRP-4C developed by AIST uses Vocaloid software to produce a synthesized singing voice.

A small selection of photos follows after the break.

[sources: Hankyung, Daum (KR)]

Photos: Robot from CIROS 2012

The China (Shanghai) International Robot Exhibition 2012 (CIROS 2012) got underway yesterday, and some photos from the event have been trickling onto the web.  Although most of the robots on the 20,000 square meter show floor are industrial in nature, there are a few human-friendly examples on display.  Guangzhou CNC Equipment Co., Ltd. (GSK)’s industrial robot arm, for example, can be seen drawing pictures of Pandas.  The so-called civilian area of the expo is proving much more popular thanks to robots like Aldebaran Robotics’ NAO, MiniRobot’s Metal Fighter hobby kits, a Mars rover by Shanghai Jiaotong University, and Grandar Robotics’ Home Education Robot (photo below).

Unis is showing off the ILU-ROBO, the PaPeRo rip-off, which reacts differently depending on where you touch it thanks to eight sensors.  If you pat it hard on the head the robot pleads, “Don’t bully me!” and when touched elsewhere it explains matter-of-factly, “No need to scratch my itch”.

The robot (which is available in many bright colors) is intended for children 12 and younger and has a variety of functions including singing, dancing, storytelling, and English lessons.  According to the company the robot has sold approximately 10,000 units since it went on sale last year and is relatively cheap (at only 3,000 yuan [$475 USD]) thanks to the scale of its production.  It also helps that NEC did the design work and paid for the molds…

RT Corp Unveils RIC Ninja Master at Google I/O 2012

An interactive fighting game between human & robot

RT Corporation showcased a taller version of their tablet-powered “Robot Inside Character” at Google I/O 2012. The RIC Ninja Master stands 120 cm (or 3 ft 11 inches, including tablet), which is 30 cm (about 1 foot) taller than the company’s flagship model, the RIC-90.  Visitors to the interactive demo booth can play a fighting game with the full-sized robot, which is a world first according to the company.

Two people control the robot: one for the arms using an Xtion Pro Live motion sensor, and another makes the robot walk using a game controller.  The Android-based tablet (which serves as the robot’s head and face) uses the RT-ADK (a general I/O board specialized for Android OS) and V-sido software to translate the players’ commands into actual movements.

A sensor on the robot’s body determines when it has taken a hit, and it wears padded gloves to avoid hurting people.  Perhaps the gloves contain a sensor to detect when it has scored a hit, but I doubt it is agile enough to hit you if it is as slow as earlier models.  And RT Corp has published a video of its demonstration so we can see how it really works.

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I’m guessing the human participants went a little easy on it, because it looks like it wouldn’t take much to knock it over in one punch…

[source: RT-net (EN)] via [MyNavi (JP)]

First Look: TeenSize-OP by Team NimbRo & Robotis

Earlier we got wind that Robotis would launch a new TeenSize robot to complement the popular (KidSize) DARwIn-OP.  When Team Darwin showed off their TeenSize robot (see here), we thought that it was the likely candidate for this new robot.  As it turns out, the TeenSize counterpart to the DARwIn-OP was developed by members of Team NimbRo (which makes sense, as they’ve won in that size category several years running).  Their TeenSized robot, nicknamed “Copedo”, took the Louis Vuitton Humanoid Cup for “Best Humanoid” this year (that’s them in the above photo). Construction kits for TeenSize-OP will be made available by the University of Bonn and Robotis.  From the poster:

To promote the Humanoid League TeenSize class, Team NimbRo wants to share its expertise with the community by developing and releasing an affordable TeenSize open platform.  This includes robot hardware and software suitable for playing RoboCup soccer games.  Robot hardware and software will be modular, such that other research groups can easily assemble the robot, operate it, repair it, and modify it to their needs.  All developed hardware and software will be documented and published as open source.

The TeenSize League’s minimum height requirement has gradually risen over the years to 90 cm (just shy of 3 feet).  Building a robot that can reliably walk, kick, and stand up from a fall at this height is more challenging than it sounds; only five teams qualified to compete this year.  By combining Team NimbRo’s expertise with Robotis’ trusted, high-quality brand of actuators, many more teams will have the chance to compete.  And that’s an important thing if RoboCup’s stated goal (of besting humans by 2050) is ever to come true.

The TeenSize-OP stands about 95 cm (just over 3 feet) tall.  It weighs approximately 7 kg (15 lbs), and has 20 degrees of freedom (powered by Robotis Dynamixel actuators, of course).  Each leg has six MX-106s, each arm has three MX-64s, and the neck has two MX-64s.  It runs the ROS middleware on a ZBOX Nano (1.6 GHz dual-core AMD Fusion processor with 4 GB RAM, SSD, WLAN, USB 3.0, and HDMI ports) and a Robotis CM-730 subcontroller powered by Li-Po batteries.  It also features two Logitech C905 cameras with wide-angle lens.

With the help of the community, they would like to build modules for visual perception (of the game situation), robot state estimation, inverse kinematics, omnidirectional walking, motion generation, basic soccer skills, robot communication, and game control (by the referee box).

RoboBuilder, a competing brand, is also developing a robot in this size class (see the RQ-TITAN), but it seems unlikely that it will be able to challenge the might of this combination.  It’ll be an uphill battle for them: already eight teams expressed interest in the idea of the TeenSize-OP at RoboCup 2011, and many more got to see it in person this year.

[source: Team NimbRo] & [Robotis]

Interview: Francisco Paz Rodríguez (CEO, TheCorpora)

Qbo, the open source personal robot developed by TheCorpora, is now available to the general public.  Early-adopters can enjoy a 20% discount if they order soon.  Despite being busy with the launch of his dream project, Francisco Paz Rodríguez (CEO, TheCorpora) took some time out to give us the inside scoop on Qbo’s development.

Plastic Pals: Tell us what got you interested in robotics and why you wanted to provide a platform like Qbo to the robotics community.

Francisco Paz Rodríguez: Like many others belonging to the generation of films like Star Wars and Bladerunner, my real passion for robots began back in the ’80s when my parents gave me a book that talked about technology and robots who would live with us in the year 2000. We passed the year 2000 but none of those things ever came true. In the meantime the series of events happening in my personal life allowed me to undertake this project of “attempting” to develop a personal, social, and home support robot. Despite the limited resources I had, I decided to continue with its development.

Those old publications certainly jumped the shark.  The authors underestimated the difficulty of building a functional robot!  Were you working in robotics before you formed TheCorpora?

16 years ago I formed a company which focused on mathematical processes aimed at digital forensics and behaviorial localization patterns. This gave me much-needed knowledge and the understanding of the algorithms for robotics. Also I have done some work related to industrial mechanics.

Now it has been six years of work and you are bringing Qbo to market. Can you give us an idea of the milestones you crossed throughout that time?

In the beginning, the whole idea started as a personal project. I didn’t follow predefined stages or a project management methodology. We simply tried to maximize our limited resources such as staff to focus on each sub-component of the project and as soon as we completed the component we moved to the next section.

From humble beginnings, how many people now work at TheCorpora? From what I can tell it is a fairly small, dedicated team.  Can you divulge the development costs?

During the first 4 years of development, our team was my brother, three friends (who are experts in industrial design and mechanical engineering), and myself. During the two years our team has increased to 6 engineers and the cost of the research and development of the robot eventually surpassed one and half million Euros.

Despite such a small team, you’ve built a robot that can compete with similar examples from Japan or South Korea.  To some they may look fairly similar, so explain what sets Qbo apart.

We firmly believe that for a robot to be universally accepted, it must be as friendly as possible. We spent almost the first two and half years of the project finalizing the design. We followed the traditional delicate Italian way of drawing to design Qbo.

The main differences between Qbo and the others is its price, design, quality of materials, and most importantly its open source nature. Apart from that Qbo contains the standard mechanical components that can be easily found in any Robotics shop in the world.

Judging by the photos, it has top-notch build quality.  I think the robotics community appreciates the open source model, and it’s definitely more convenient to use standardized parts.  Have any universities (or other institutions) expressed interest in adopting Qbo as a platform for research?

Shimi, The Android-Powered Toe-Tapping Music Bot

Researchers from Georgia Tech, the MIT Media Lab, and IDC in Israel have formed a new start-up in Atlanta called Tovbot.  One of their founders, Gil Weinberg, made it into the top ten selling apps with his music creator ZOOZBeat.  He, along with Guy Hoffman and Roberto Aimi, built a marimba-playing robot capable of improvisation called Shimon circa 2010.  It follows that the company’s first prototype, Shimi, is an Android-powered music robot.

Shimi takes advantage of your Android-based smartphone to recognize faces and words, allowing it to react intelligently to your commands.  Additionally, the robot grooves to the beat of whatever song it plays by nodding its speaker-laden head and tapping its “foot”.  It can also choose a tune for you based on the beat you tap or clap for it, and has the ability to create new compositions.  The company will be presenting their robots at the Google I/O After Party today at San Francisco’s Moscone Center.

“We’ve packed a lot of exciting robotics technology into Shimi,” says Gil Weinberg, cofounder and CEO of Tovbot. “Shimi is actually the product of nearly a decade of musical robotics research. We’re very excited about the opportunity to show the Google developer community what we’ve put together using the Android platform”.

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The novelty of such a device is made clear in the video, but it’s questionable how much money such a thing is really worth to people.  I suspect that (along with its sound quality) Shimi’s retail price of $199 USD will largely determine how it fares in competition with standard docks.  It is also quite large for such a device, but being a prototype it may yet undergo some plastic surgery.  A company rep says they plan to launch a line of smartphone-powered robots (some cheaper than Shimi) at CES 2013.

In the past, robotic musical companions (see Miuro, SONY’s Rolly, and AMP – not to mention even more toy-like varieties) have not caught on in a big way.  And there will be more competition amongst music-playing robots soon, when such features become expected of hobby kits as more companies integrate their products with smartphone technology (see Dongbu’s K-POP idol robots announced earlier this week).

[source: Tovbot] via [This Week In Creepy Robots]

Coming Soon: Robotic Dolls Based on Dreamy K-POP Idols

Dongbu Robot, a South Korean company that sells the Genibo robot dog, has announced plans to market a line of entertainment robots based on famous K-POP stars.  The pint-sized robots, which are expected to launch before year’s end, will have detachable heads with “artificial skin” based on singers from Girl’s Generation and Super Junior.  That K-POP idols already look like Barbie dolls (partly due to the prevalence of plastic surgery in South Korea) may work in the robot’s favor.

The company claims the doll-like robots will be able to dance thanks to their 20 servo-driven joints, but it’s probably not worth getting too excited about.  No word on price, but hobbyists will be able to download new songs and dance routines via a smartphone app.  It seems likely the robots will be based on Dongbu’s new line of HOVIS humanoid kits, which (if true) means users will be able to program their own routines as well.  I foresee an avalanche of YouTube videos featuring them.

The company is combining its resources with those of Intelligent & Recreational Robot (known for their tabletop robot arcades) and Ocean Bridge E&T to bring them to market.  We don’t have any photos or videos of the K-POP robots, but you can expect them to look quite a bit like these examples from YouTuber RozenZebet:

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[source: Straitstimes] via [This Week in Creepy Robots]