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• Hector

Recently the CompanionAble project wrapped after four years of research and development, having received €7.8M euros in funding under the EU Seventh Framework Programme (FP7). The project was a collaboration between 18 organizations from France, Austria, Germany, Spain, Belgium, England, and the Netherlands. Stichting Smart Homes, a group from the Netherlands, developed an assisted-living scenario that integrated a robotic companion (named Hector) with a smart home environment. Then the project’s target demographic (elderly people with mild cognitive impairments) were invited to test the system by living with it for two days.

Hector, developed by Germany’s MetraLabs Robotics, scoots around the house and interacts with people through both verbal commands and a touch screen interface. It’s one of several mobile robots developed by the company, which carry odd-sounding names like SCITOS G3 (Hector’s official name).

It’s pretty amazing how the simple addition of eyes can give an entirely different feeling to an otherwise lifeless mechanical object. Hector can carry small objects, like your keys, but is primarily meant to be a personal organizer. It can remind you when to take your medication, alert you to scheduled appointments, and suggest activities. The project suggests that, should a robot the likes of Honda’s ASIMO ever be capable of fulfilling such a role, it will be highly prized in this sector for its ability to project an even more human-like personal assistant.

Photos: Robot Expo Korea 2012

Robot Expo Korea 2012 attracted more than 20,000 visitors last week in the city of Gwanju.  Around 1,600 students from elementary, middle and high schools competed in the 14th International Robot Olympiad.  There were robot soccer, dance, and design competitions.  In addition a trade fair took place where a total of 47 companies presented their products and technology, including vacuum cleaners, artificial fish, rovers, agricultural robots and educational kits.

To be honest there isn’t much to report, since there were few humanoids on display other than the Robotis DARwIn-OP and Robobuilder kits.  However, one new guide robot made an appearance.  It was developed by Junsung E&R (a company formed in 2005 that specializes in renewable energy technology), and bears a striking resemblance to a certain Pixar robot character.

Hm… Robots don’t appear to be the company’s strong suit.  Not that it matters; South Korea is overflowing with simple guide robots as it is!  A selection of photos is tucked after the break.

[source: Robot Expo 2012] via [Gwanju Info (KR)]

Videos: Tichno Ad, Chinese Segways, MIT Cheetah, & Curiosity

Another week, another set of robot videos to watch.  First we’ve got a new television commercial airing in Japan featuring seven Vstone Tichnos (humanoid robots developed specifically to promote stores and products).  They’re modeling a new line of durable school bags from Nitori, but it’s their Vocaloid singing voices which have caused something of a stir among audiences who are wondering if it is really Hatsune Miku’s voice.

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[source: Nitori movie @ YouTube] via [Jcast (JP)]

• SDUST Baby

The Shandong University of Science and Technology (SDUST) celebrated its 60th anniversary in late 2011 with the birth of the SDUST Baby. The robot, which stands roughly 170 cm (5’7″) tall, was developed in less than a year by four professors and eight students specifically for the anniversary.  It uses an LCD screen to display a variety of facial expressions such as laughing, crying, and so on.  It has 1 degree of freedom in its neck, 1 in its waist, and 4 per arm (shoulder x2, elbow x1, wrist x1).

Its head-mounted camera is used for face recognition, and it features some degree of speech recognition and synthesis.  For example, the researchers entered the photos and names of prominent alumni who would attend the anniversary event, allowing the SDUST Baby to name them on sight.  In another demonstration, the robot repeats words spoken by a researcher. The robot performed a simple dance routine to the tune of the school anthem for reporters before it was assigned to greet visitors at the school’s Historical Exhibition Hall celebrating the school’s accomplishments.

Granted, it’s not going to win any awards on its technical merits, but at least they took some time to make it look friendly (unlike say AndyVision, a recent example by the much more affluent CMU).  The research team had previously worked on industrial robots (this is their first service robot).  One of the team members said they plan to develop smaller, more refined service robots in the future.  A few more photos and videos follow after the break.

[source: SDUST, 2, 3, 4, SDKD, Sohu (CN)]

Video: Dongbu Robot’s HOVIS Lite, Eco & Genie

Dongbu Robot has published some videos showing their HOVIS (Home Servis) hobby robot kits.

I’ve been saying for years that manufacturers ought to follow the lead of the Kyosho Manoi series, which, thanks to its plastic exterior, has a lot more personality than the bare-bone robot kits you see on the market. Dongbu Robot has wisely opted to offer the kit both with an exoskeleton (HOVIS Eco) and without (HOVIS Lite) while marketing their new line of Herculex servo motors.

The HOVIS Eco stands 41.8 cm (16.4 inches) tall and weighs 1.8 kg (3.9 lbs).  It comes with a simple distance sensor in its chest (gyro is optional), and is powered by a 7.4V 3,000mA Li-Po battery.  The kit comes with a software bundle for programming the robot, which will suit beginners to experts.  You can also upgrade its functionality with optional sensors, higher torque servos, an “emoticon” head unit (color-changing LEDs), and it is interchangeable with parts from the HOVIS App and Genie kits.

Video (HOVIS Eco):

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Exoskeletons, Robot Companions, & More Italian Robots

The Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies of Pisa recently showcased some of their projects for the media.  Included in the presentation was the Sabian humanoid, codeveloped with Waseda University (based on the Wabian).  It’s part of “The Robot Companions for Citizens” project, which is one of six research projects competing for a billion euros ($1.2B USD)  in funding from the European Union.  That’s a huge chunk of change, which will be doled out over the course of the next ten years.  Currently the humanoid lacks arms and uses the child-like Robot Cub (iCub) head, which looks slightly bizarre on an adult-sized body.

“The idea is to get robots out of factories where they have shown their worth and to transform them into household machines which can live together with humans,” said Professor Dario, director of the college’s bio-robotics department.

Videos: PR2 Folds Laundry, Vintage SDR-3X, Transforming Robots

Today we’ve got some cool robot videos to share with you.  First up is one of several videos showing the PR2 autonomously folding clothing by researchers at UC Berkeley’s Robot Learning Lab.  Obviously there are some conceits involved: the clothes are already laying flat on a green table, which makes it easy for the robot’s machine vision software to detect its edges.  It then calculates a series of folds before going into action, which has been sped up in the video by four times.  Folding takes quite a bit longer than a person would, but the PR2 is limited by its processing speed (which will get faster with better technology).


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[source: RLLBerkeley @ YouTube] & [UC Berkeley RLL]


CRIIF (Centre de Robotique Intégrée d-Île-de-France), a Parisian R&D lab, has built an odd-looking humanoid robot called SAMI.  The simple 3D-printed head was first shown at Innorobo 2011, and since then the robot has been selected as one of fifteen prototypes “most likely to be a commercial success” by a French website called Cap Digital.  That distinction means little, given that there weren’t many French robot prototypes at the show and CRIIF appears to be a member of the site.

With just three months, six team members, and a paltry budget of $100,000 USD to both design and build SAMI, some corners had to be cut.  That meant the body’s exoskeleton is basically a mannequin that was cut in half, and some simple piping covers its arms.  The upper-body sits on a large mobile base outfitted with Primesense sensors for obstacle detection, and its arms can be controlled using a Kinect sensor.  So far that’s about all this robot is capable of, though CRIIF believes it will go where few robots have gone before.