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For His Latest Trick, Dr. Guero’s Biped Balances

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.

Monday Mobile Suit Madness

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.

Videos: Meet The Creator of KURATAS & More

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.

Honda Launching Robotic Lawn Mowers In Europe Next Year

Normally we don’t cover consumer robotics products, but Honda has sweetened the deal with these photos of ASIMO and, well, we’re suckers for the little guy.  The Miimo (strange, you’d think they would have called them ASIMOwers) will hit the booming European robotic mower market sometime next year.

Available in two specifications, the Miimo 300 and 500 (for perimeters up to 300 and 500 meters respectively) will likely have different battery capacities but will otherwise be identical.  It will roam a patch of earth, keeping within the boundaries you set with wires (which can be buried underground to maintain a clean appearance).

• pMA Gorilla “Lucy”

While there are now dozens of full-body humanoid robots in existence, there are few based on our primate relatives.  Even the robot Bonobo, named after a species of Chimpanzee, is humanoid in shape.  If you’re looking for truly apish bots the Gibbon-like Brachiator robots built at Nagoya University, Japan, are perhaps the most well-known examples.

This seems like a waste given that the primate form offers researchers the chance to explore both bipedal and quadrupedal locomotion in one robot. In particular, a gorilla robot could benefit from the stability afforded by its four-legged stance but also balance on two legs to perform manipulation tasks.  As luck would have it there is one, nicknamed Lucy…

Between 2002~2004 Steven Davis (with the help of Darwin Caldwell) sought to explore these possibilities with the pMA Gorilla as part of his PhD at the University of Salford.  He describes the bio-mimetic approach as analyzing an animal and breaking it down to create a simplified (yet functional) artificial model.  In fact, a robot doesn’t necessarily need to replicate every part of an animal for it to be useful as a research platform.  Taking cues from a female gorilla’s anatomy, he did some necessary surgery and opted for pneumatic muscle actuators (pMAs) rather than electric geared motors to drive the robot’s limbs.

• Nico

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.

• Adam

Malte Ahlers, a student of neurobiology in Germany, has built a humanoid robot torso called Adam (Advanced Dual Arm Manipulator), or A1 for short.  Although the project is still somewhat early in development, the hardware side of things has been in the works for around two years already.

Unlike many personal projects that opt for hobby servos from Robotis (or another company), Adam’s arms have five degrees of freedom actuated by robolink joints from Igus, a German robotics company.

The robolink joints have both pivot and rotation – ideal for building robot arms – but they use external cables for their rotation (much like a pulley: one for clockwise and another for counter-clockwise rotation).  The resulting bundle of cables had to be routed to planetary gear motors inside the torso, and he had to build a motor controller to read out the position encoders in the joints in order to drive the motors with position control.  As a proof of concept, he has posted a video showing one of the shoulders moving.  He’ll have to pack many more motors into Adam’s torso to get the other arm moving.

• 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.