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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]

Video: 10 Years Pursuing Whole-Body Multicontact Control

The following video showcases a decade’s worth of contributions by Luis Sentis at the Human Centered Robotics Lab UT Austin and Stanford in the realm of whole-body motion control for humanoid robots.  This allows the robots to perform motions that would otherwise be impossible or look unnatural.  It includes simulations of famous robots, like Honda’s ASIMO and KIST’s Mahru, culminating with real robots built with Meka Robotics (Dreamer and Hume).


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[source: HCRLab @ YouTube]

Robot Communications’ Mascot Paints The Town Red

ROBOT COMMUNICATIONS opened its doors in 1986 as a television commercial production/facilitating agency and graphic design company. ROBOT has since expanded into producing feature films, animation, web and mobile contents. No one in the industry would have imagined such diverse expansion at the time of ROBOT’s establishment. ROBOT has achieved excellence in each of these areas, culminating in the Animation production division winning an Academy Award in 2009.

Here are some cute photographs of the company’s robot mascot out and about:

[source: Robot Communications]

Hajime Sakamoto’s 4 Meter Robot Gathers Steam

Let the above photo sink in for a moment.  Hajime Sakamoto (the founder of the Hajime Research Institute) is assembling a real functional giant robot.  When we broke the story late last year it was little more than a conceptual image and a single leg.  Now both legs have been assembled and the cockpit’s seat is in place (though it still lacks feet, so we’ll have to wait a bit longer to see it walk).  This thing is going to be crazy awesome when it is complete!

He is also experimenting with a new master-slave control system for his 2 meter (6’6″) tall humanoid robot.  The uncommonly tall robot, Hajime 33, stands just one inch shy of the average height of an NBA player (from records of the past 30 years).  Previously it has been controlled using the joystick on a wireless game controller.  Now, the motion of the robot’s arms can be driven by a pair of miniature arms attached to a vest.

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Will this be part of the control apparatus inside the cockpit of the 4 meter humanoid?  Earlier we looked at the mixed control scheme for Vaudeville, another large robot that uses a combination of a Microsoft Kinect sensor and a touch-screen.

[source: Hajime Research Institute] via []

Takara Tomy Unveils I-SODOG at Tokyo Toy Show 2012

Takara Tomy has unveiled the latest in their line of Omnibot toy robots at Tokyo Toy Show 2012.  The I-SODOG is small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, but boasts 15 servo motors that can reproduce realistic movement.

When activated, its eyes light up and users can interact with it through more than 50 voice commands or with a smartphone thanks to a Bluetooth connection.  Using a custom app, it will perform tricks on command such as shake a paw, dance to songs you’ve downloaded, or move intuitively by simply tilting the phone.  There’s also a Tamagotchi-style artificial life component, allowing you to scold bad behavior or reward it with digital doggy treats, which will foster different “personalities” over time.

The robot pup comes equipped with touch sensors, microphones, and a 3D accelerometer to prevent it from falling over.  If its younger owners don’t have access to a smartphone, they can command it with the included remote controller. It also includes some practical features, such as a voice mail system and an alarm function.  And if two I-SODOGs are brought together, they will exchange data with one another.


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At just 15 cm (6″) in height and length, and weighing 400 grams (0.8 lbs), the I-SODOG is considerably smaller than SONY’s ill-fated AIBO.  But thanks to its smartphone connectivity, it has the potential to outsmart all of the older robot dogs in the kennel.  According to Takara Tomy, it will have some autonomy similar to the AIBO, and operate for between 1~2 hours on AA batteries.  The I-SODOG is expected to retail for around 30,000 JPY ($380 USD) in spring 2013.

In 2007, the company released a miniature humanoid robot toy called the I-SOBOT, which revived its brand of home robots that were popular in the 1980s.

[source: Gigazine (JP)]

This Little Robot Can Sure Run Its Ass Off

We’ve all seen MABEL, the biped robot built at the University of Michigan that can run at 6.8 miles per hour (10.9 kph).  Now, thanks to a collaboration between Professor Mingguo Zhao (Department of Automation, Tsinghua University) and researchers at the Italian Institute of Technology, MABEL has a miniature cousin.  The two projects aren’t really related, but they do share much in common: both are incredibly fast and are capable of negotiating unforeseen changes in terrain, and both rely on a boom to maintain balance along the Sagittal plane (for now).

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According to the video description, Prof. Mingguo Zhao is the professor of the Robot Control Lab who developed the fast walking/running algorithm base on the Virtual Slope Walking, which belongs to the realm of the limit cycle approach.  If they can achieve similar results in their free-standing humanoids (Tsinghua’s Team Hephaestus’ RoboCup robots can be seen in the background), they could run circles around their opponents!

[source: Alebotics @ YouTube]

Toyota Retires Trumpet-Playing Partner Robot

Well, this is some sad news. On Friday Toyota announced that one of its Trumpet-Playing Partner Robots (nicknamed “Harry”) would retire from active duty. This particular model made its debut at the Aichi Expo in 2005, and was starting to show its age through everyday wear and tear.  Its farewell concerts took place at 12:30 pm and 4 pm on Sunday, June 10th 2012, where it was accompanied by a pair of (human) trombonists.

The robot has far exceeded the initial plans to have it perform for three years, having toured multiple countries and played five minute pieces up to six times a day at its station in Nagoya.  Its repertoire of about a dozen songs included an anime medley, “I Just Called to Say I Love You”, “Moon River”, and a Disney medley featuring “Hi Ho”, “Whistle While You Work”, “When You Wish Upon a Star”, and “The Mickey Mouse Club March”.  It was not unusual for crowds to gather around to enjoy the robot, with youngsters often commenting that they’d like to build a robot one day.

The 145 cm (4’9″) tall, 40 kg (88 lbs) robot used artificial piston-driven lungs to blow air through rubberized lips, and was able to play individual notes using its fingers.  Luckily Toyota will continue to exhibit a Trumpet-Playing Partner Robot at the Toyota Kaikan Exhibition Hall for those who want to see it in person, but there’s no telling for how long.  They suggest the robots are missing parts from years of maintenance.


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In 2007, the company unveiled a Violin-Playing Partner Robot, however due to the delicate touch required to play a violin it is only shown on special occasions (such as at the Japanese pavilion at the Shanghai Expo 2010, see here).  In 2009 the company published conceptual images of Partner Robots on the Moon in 2020 (see here) and even patented their design, but Toyota’s focus seems to have shifted away from humanoids.  In the past few years the company has favored the Winglet, a personal mobility vehicle similar to the Segway, and a walk-assist device instead.

I hope that Toyota will once again wow us with a new Partner Robot in the future.  The Toyota Partner Robots, which harken back to the Japanese tradition of karakuri ningyo, rank very high on my list of personal favorites.  It seems like a missed opportunity that Disney never set up a semi-permanent attraction featuring one, as they have done with Honda’s ASIMO for the past several years.

[source: Asahi, Goo News (JP)] via [KMoriyama @ Twitter]