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Korean Museums Lining Up Robot Guides

A museum in Daegu, South Korea, has announced a pilot program featuring two guide robots, one we featured earlier (see Docent) and this one called “Haesol Robot 2″ (named after the museum’s educational facility Haesolgwan). The robots were previously built for Seoul’s Museum of Natural History by a technology company called Corebell, which also exhibited them at Innorobo 2012.

The robot stands 120cm (4′) tall and weighs 60kg (132 lbs), and can move at speeds of up to 20 meters per minute on a two-wheel drive system.  It comes equipped with a camera, 12 ultrasonic range sensors, 12 pressure sensors, a gyroscopic sensor, and uses in-door GPS for positioning.  It can operate for 6 hours before needing to be recharged.  The robots will guide visitors through a permanent exhibit and take part in robot-themed classes held at the museum.

Meanwhile, The Robot Institute has begun testing their museum guide robot, KIRO Onbot, in South Korea’s National Folk Museum.  A museum administrator can keep an eye on the situation by controlling the robot remotely with a cell phone, and by watching a live video feed sent wirelessly from the robot’s on board camera.

The robot’s head moves and it can shake hands with visitors as it guides them through exhibits, stopping to explain them in more detail.  The museum expects to see an increase in visits from families with small children (as well as preschool and elementary tours) thanks to the robot, which connects the past with the future.

The company previously tested an educational version of the robot in both schools and museums. A few more photos follow after the break.

[sources: DGI News, PR Hankyung & Union Press (KR)]

Russia to NASA: Anything You Can Do We Can Do Better

A new kind of space race is underway as the USA, Germany, and Japan strive to build robots that can help repair the International Space Station and satellites.  It was only a matter of time before Russia entered the fray, thanks to NPO-AT (Android Technology) and the Central Research Institute of Machine Building (administered by the Russian Federal Space Agency).  They’ve built a teleoperated humanoid called the SAR-400 which is the spitting image of NASA and General Motor’s Robonaut 2, and they plan to send it to the ISS within the next two years.

Like the R2 it has no legs, allowing it to be fitted to a crane on the ISS to save astronauts the trouble of stressful space walks.  The operator wears a head-mounted display, jacket, and gloves which relay movements directly to the robot’s head, arms, and hands.  However, a company rep says their gloves are the first to transmit tactile sensation from the robot to the operator.  This means a cosmonaut can operate tools and equipment more naturally, since he or she can “feel” the object in their hand.  In the case of an emergency where the robot’s hand becomes trapped, the pressure transferred to the human operator is sufficient to alert them to the problem but will not harm them.

The Russian Space Agency is testing the robot in mock training stations based on Mir, where it has already tightened screws and opened hatches.  The robot’s control is precise enough to play a game of chess, but it will take more time and testing before it will be fully operational, said Sergei Avdeyev, a cosmonaut and engineer.  “At this point it is important to synchronize the movements of the robot and the operator.  Only when the operator starts to feel he is in the frame of the robot as if in his own body, can we move on to the development of other control modes – autonomous, supervisory, etc.” said Oleg Saprykin, chief of manned space programs.

Currently it takes between 5-7 seconds for a radio signal to travel from a satellite to Earth and 15 minutes to bridge the gap to Mars, a delay which makes it impractical unless the operator is stationed nearby.  The company is optimistic that with technological progress it will become possible to teleoperate robots in space or on the moon from the comfort of home.  The company shared its results with German researchers at the first German-Russian seminar on space robotics in February.


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NPO-AT (formerly known as Android Robotics Corp) has also “flattered” Honda with an ASIMO-like bipedal robot called the AR-600.  More photos and videos follow after the break.

[source: NPO-AT project site (RU)] via [Topwar (RU)]

Chinese Automaker’s New Car Has A Robot In The Dash

China’s BYD, one of the world’s leading battery suppliers, will be showing off a new hybrid sedan at the Beijing Motor Show.  What makes the car (called the “Qin”, after China’s first empire) newsworthy is its inclusion of a small robot in the dashboard, similar to concepts from Nissan, Pioneer, and Audi.  It will likely retail in the range of $24,000- $32,000 USD.

The Qin is said to be able to go 50km (31 miles) in all electric mode before the engine kicks in, and accelerates from 0-100km in 6.9 seconds.  The little robot pops up from the dashboard when you start the car and appears to be the terminal of BYD’s “i” networking system which handles everything from wireless internet, mapping, music downloads, driver fatigue detection, and voice control.

Check out the rest of the interior and the exterior after the break.

[source: China Car Times]

Robots Waited Tables in the ’80s Too

Robot waiters are only beginning to find jobs in China and Thailand (see also this story), but an American entrepreneur beat them to the punch – by about thirty years!  Back in 1983 Shayne Hayashi bought a pair of Japanese robots to bus his restaurant tables at Two Panda Delicatessen in Pasadena, California.  The robots, Tanbo R-1 and R-2, crammed the aisles at 137cm (4’6″) and 82kg (180 lbs).  At a cost of $20,000 (about $45,000 adjusted for inflation) each, they were more expensive than they were efficient given the technological limitations of the time.

Robots in Advertising: Absolut Greyhound

Running of the Six DRGXX, 1983, KRONOTEKO

This is a pretty cool extended advert from Absolut Vodka featuring music by Swedish House Mafia.  It’s a robotic greyhound race from the future, perhaps inspired by the above illustration by the masterful Syd Mead.  It’s a poster he did for the only Tokyo International Sport Fair (1983).

Actually, robots like the ones in the video may not be that far off if Boston Dynamics’ Cheetah bot is any indication.  Of course, that doesn’t mean the fashion sense will be any less galling than it is today.

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I’m loving the details on the robots’ chassis, and you can check them out after the break in a batch of high quality screen captures.

[source: Absolut @ YouTube]

Icarus Technology Assembling Team for DARPA Challenge

Icarus Technology & Davide Faconti (former CEO and technical project leader at Pal Robotics) has announced a call for participation for the recently announced DARPA challenge.  Davide is already an accomplished roboticist having served as the main mechanical engineer and developer of the walking algorithms of the full-sized humanoids REEM-A and REEM-B.  As we pointed out in our breakdown of the challenge objectives, REEM-B is one of the few humanoid robots in the world that can lift more than 5 kg (11 lbs).

He wants to form a European team to participate in Track A of the DARPA challenge, which will be funded to the tune of $4 million over the entire 27-month preparation period.  Only the best teams will make it into track A, as those will have to create both the software and the hardware platform for the challenge.  From the initiative’s website:

“…we believe that whoever eventually wins the Grand Challenge will make robotics history.  We want to be those winners. We’re not in this competition just to “try,” and we’re definitely not in it just to use the budget from DARPA for basic research.

…we want to make all the deliverables open source, both in terms of software and hardware design. Not only do we want to build one of the best robots in the world, but we also want to make it available to everyone!”

Time is of the essence.  As the deadline to submit proposals is the 31st of May, they would like to hear from interested individuals and institutions by the 13th of May.  They are looking for talented mechanical and electronic engineers and software programmers, and anyone else who can make substantial contributions to the project.  For more information, visit the call for participation website and contact Faconti [at] icarustechnology [dot] com.

  • express your commitment to start working full-time in October 2012, should DARPA approve their candidacy for Track A
  • describe your areas of expertise related to robotics and the way that it is applicable to the Grand Challenge
  • write a short essay/abstract about the way that, in your opinion, one or more of the tasks of the Grand Challenge can be achieved. The purpose is to demonstrate that you are competent in your area of research and that you can contribute to improve the state-of-the-art
  • if you are looking for an employment opportunity, please also include your CV and your personal achievement in robotics

[source: DARPA Initiative website] via [GetRobo (JP)]

Video: Mini Doc About Mini Bots

Although the Kid Size League represents only a fraction of RoboCup’s annual itinerary, it could easily fill a full-length documentary if you were to visit with each of the teams.  This short (under ten minutes) documentary about RoboCup’s humanoid soccer league filmed at the 2011 competition in Istanbul, Turkey is an excellent primer if you’re new to the subject.  Includes appearances by one of RoboCup’s founders Manuela Veloso (Carnegie Mellon University, USA), Professor Oskar Von Stryk (Technical University of Darmstadt, Germany), referee Jacky Baltes (University of Manitoba, Canada), and student Taylor Pesek (Virginia Tech, USA).


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[source: Kinetrack @ YouTube]

Innorobo 2012: Recap

The unfortunate timing of our technical issues left us unable to cover Innorobo 2012, already one of the biggest robotics conventions in Europe with only two years under its belt.  It’s all over now, having run March 14th~16th, but it’s worth taking a look back at some of the robots that made appearances.

Unfortunately the majority of the robots from France were the same from last year’s conference.  The Robot Studio brought out their musculoskeletal cyclops ECCERobot, and ROBOPEC showed off its unusual “PCBot” REETI.  Gostai once again presented JAZZ, their telepresence solution.  EOS Innovation of France was showing off the e-viligante, a small surveillance robot (last year we covered their home telepresence robot E-One).  Sadly Aldebaran Robotics, which is today arguably the most influential robotics company from France, wasn’t ready to introduce their full-size biped Romeo to the public.

From Barcelona, PAL Robotics brought out REEM – which they spuriously claim is “the first commercially available humanoid service robot”.  Also from Spain, AISoy Robotics demonstrated their robotic pet AISoy1.

Engineered Arts, the makers of the RoboThespian have created a new entertainment robot called SociBot.  Rather than having small individual screens for each eye and a clap-trap mouth, SociBot’s translucent plastic face has animated features projected onto its interior.  This creates a seamless, more aesthetically pleasing face with no moving parts.

The Italian Institute of Technology and CoTeSys presented the iCub, which is one of the most advanced humanoids built in Europe to date.

Some of the mainstays of Japanese robotics showed up, including NEC’s PaPeRo, AIST’s therapeutic robot PARO, and Cyberdyne’s HAL exoskeleton.

Toyota brought some Winglets – what could be considered the miniature version of the Segway – for attendees to test drive.  Out of all the small personal mobility vehicles I’ve seen over the past few years, the Winglet looks to be the most fun and practical of the lot.  I do think they should probably remove the upright shaft that fits uncomfortably between the legs in favor of a pop-out handle, though, which would make it look and feel more like a skateboard than a Segway.  Here’s hoping they actually commercialize the thing.

Luckily a veritable invasion of robots from South Korea made the trip, picking up the relative slack from Japan.  Robotis pimped its Bioloid hobby kits, as well as the DARwIn-OP.  Future Robot presented their service robot FURO.  MiniRobot presented their hobby humanoid Metal Fighter.  KIST’s lovable little biped Kibo 2 proved one of the most popular robots at the convention, mugging for the cameras and headlining many of the articles coming out of mainstream media.  KIST also brought along EngKey, their egg-shaped teaching assistant robot.  Yujin Robot had their own teaching assistant, ROBOSEM, and their early childhood edutainment robot iRobiQ.

Also from Korea, Robotech was showing off a strange bear-like edutainment robot.

Last but not least, Willow Garage made the trip across the pond and were showing off the PR2.

Notably absent from this Euro-centric conference were German universities and agencies, which could have included the impressive full-size humanoids LOLA (Technical University Munich) and Justin (DLR).  Earlier this year DLR announced that they had improved Rollin’ Justin’s overall speed and control, and given it the name Agile Justin.


[source: Innorobo 2012] & [CNN, CBC News]