Having previously programmed his Kondo KHR-3HV hobby robot to walk on stilts and ride a bicycle, the good Dr. Guero is now refining the robot’s overall balance. The pseudonym is a reference to a character from the popular manga and animated television series Dragon Ball Z, for a scientist who has worked at Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology and Boston Dynamics.
To begin with you’ll notice the robot’s feet have been trimmed down considerably (technical details aren’t readily available, but it appears from the wires in the above photo that he has placed new sensors there). Of course it is able to balance on one foot (something most hobby robot kits can do quite easily on a flat surface), but things are taken a step further by placing weights on the robot’s extremities, which appear to have little effect on its balance. The robot is then shown walking forwards and backwards (without rotation) on an incline, and reacting to external disturbances by quickly side-stepping.
Japan’s real life 4 meter tall robot project (the one by Hajime Sakamoto, not to be confused with the KURATAS) was demonstrated live this weekend at a Monozukuri festival. Monozukuri is a term which translates along the lines of “crafting things” or “manufacturing”. As we’ve mentioned in previous articles, Hajime Sakamoto has been crafting humanoid robots for many years. His smaller robots are the preferred platform by RoboCup soccer teams from Japan and Germany. His stated goal is to one day build a working version of the Gundam mobile suits.
For the uninitiated, Gundam is a long-running animated television series that is as popular in Japan as Star Wars is in the United States. The stories, which have mesmerized viewers for more than 30 years, revolve around military conflicts between Earth and its interplanetary colonies. The stars of the show are often the pilots of the mobile suits, which supplement the armies’ fleet of space ships. In recent years the series has been celebrated with a life-sized statue of its titular robot, but Sakamoto won’t be satisfied until he sees one walking. That’s where the 4 meter robot steps into the picture.
It’s not every Friday we can bring you a selection of cool robot videos, but this week we can! We begin with this short interview with Kogoro Kurata, the creator of the world famous KURATAS mecha. Having joined YouTube less than one month ago, his videos have already racked up more than 3,000,000 views. Now we get to meet the man behind the mecha, and thankfully the video comes with English subtitles.
Nico without his usual Yale sweatshirt
Nico is an upper-body humanoid robot developed at Yale University’s Social Robotics Lab, under the direction of Brian Scassellati (who cut his teeth on MIT’s Cog and Kismet). Originally built circa 2004 to mimic the proportions of a one year old child, it has continued to serve as a research platform ever since.
Nico uses a similar mechanical set-up to the aforementioned bots, with a simple head (featuring two cameras per eye for wide and narrow fields of vision), a pair of arms, and a torso bolted to a table. Microphones for speech recognition are placed apart from the robot’s body, along with a bank of sixteen computers used for image processing and other tasks. Its body (such that it is) has a total of 22 degrees of freedom (head x6, 2 arms x6, right hand x2, back and waist x2).
In 2007, Nico was touted as the first robot to recognize itself in a mirror. Scassellati referred to the trick as “this dumb simple algorithm”. Basically, Nico could classify what it was seeing as “self”, “other”, or “neither”. While it was not exactly the eureka moment it was made out to be in the press, it’s a start.