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We all know the tale of Pinocchio: the plight of a wooden marionette bestowed with life who dreams of becoming a real boy. In recent years films like Steven Spielberg’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence and Takashi Nakamura’s A Tree of Palme have underlined the common threads between that age-old yarn and mankind’s quest to create a thinking machine, which goes back at least as far as ancient Greece (see Galatea).  And so it is fitting that Hiroaki Kitano & Tatsuya Matsui (who would later form Flower Robotics) funded by JST ERATO (Japan Science & Technology Agency, Exploratory Research for Advanced Technology) decided to name their humanoid robot PINO.

PINO was originally envisioned as a standardized open platform for robotics in anticipation of the RoboCup Soccer Humanoid League. All of the details were freely available online (though the website has since closed), from its mechanical construction through to its processing system. The software was primarily Linux-based, and readily available PS2 controllers can be used for remote control.  The exterior shell was modeled on the computer and printed via a rapid-prototyping process called selective laser sintering.

Factory robots forced into fastfood sector due to recession

RamenRobotsWhat with the recession hitting Japanese robot manufacturers hard, it’s not surprising that companies are trying to find unexplored work alternatives to make ends meet. In Nagoya Japan, a ramen restaurant started by a robot manufacturer is gaining popularity as two robot arms serve up dishes to curious customers. Novelty is the special of the day, and the noodles taste no worse for wear.  It takes less than 2 minutes for the robots to prepare a bowl of noodles and they make up to 80 on a busy day. Video after the break.

Asimo and HRP-2 Promet go to work

Asimo-planningResearchers at Carnegie Mellon University have developed novel approaches to humanoid robot navigation and path planning using a Honda Asimo and HRP-2 Promet as their test subjects.  The robots are able to perceive obstacles in their environment and walk around them to reach a goal destination.  They can even predict the velocity of moving obstacles and time their footsteps in order to get through unharmed using computer vision algorithms.

Turning AIST’s robotics laboratory in Japan into a makeshift motion-capture studio allowed them to augment reality by matching real-world objects, such as tables and chairs, with 3d models.  This allowed the HRP-2 Promet humanoid to see obstacles in its environment both in simulation and the real world.  Two incredible videos after the break.

• An9-PR

AN9PR-headersmALSOK presented its latest robot, the An9-PR (Public Relations), on July 29th, 2009. ALSOK’s Reborg-Q security system wasn’t designed to handle requests for information or advertise to the public, and growing demand for such a robot led to the development of the An9-PR. The robot has a 19″ touch panel interface on its front, and two 12″ monitors on its back which display advertisements and other information.

The robot’s “hands” come equipped with a FeliCa mobile phone feature, allowing you to transfer coupons and directions to a store to your cellphone. Using the robot’s onboard camera, people can take photos and interactively position themselves into the coupon’s image for fun. New advertisements can be easily transferred to the robot from a PC.

• An9-RR


In March 2009, ALSOK added the An9-RR to their product line up. Intended as a kind of robotic security system, all personnel entering and exiting its building are recorded using the larger robot’s camera, which has face recognition technology, as well as microphones for detecting sounds. Preregistered employees can be contacted through the touchscreen interface, which can also display directions if needed. Naturally the robot happily greets people as they enter and says good-bye when they leave, with a head that can tilt and nod, and LED eyes that display a variety of expressions.

In emergencies, an alarm will sound and email alerts with images are automatically sent to human security guards. The larger unit measures 76.5mm tall, and weighs 35kg, while the the smaller unit (26.4mm tall, 1.5kg) is basically just a portable security camera which can be moved around as needed.

Companies can rent the unit for 69,250 JPY ($716 USD) a month or purchase one for 2,892,750 JPY ($30,350 USD).  Video and media after the break.

Will Wagenaar’s Tin Can Robots

WillWagenaar-headerArtist and tinkerer Will Wagenaar proves that one man’s junk is another man’s robot with his photo album featuring dozens of robotic characters built out of old tin cans, forks, and assorted odds and ends (including some rather out-of-place and off-putting modern plastic toy parts).  His amusing creations can be seen in all their antique goodness over on his Flickr account, brimming with personality and (of all things) popcorn and cheesies.

[source: Will Wagenaar @ Flickr] via [Robots-dreams]

• Daft Punk’s Electroma

Electroma-HeaderElectroma is the story of two robots (Daft Punk) who break from the norm to express their inner individuality in a world populated by robots, with disastrous consequences.  This is an experimental film with no dialog whatsoever, running a generous 74 minutes, and some people may feel it drags on a bit in parts.  Even fans of Daft Punk may be left scratching their heads since it doesn’t feature their music but, supposedly, it syncs up with their album Human After All ala Pink Floyd/Wizard of Oz.  If you are not into experimental film you will probably much prefer their animated excursion, Interstella 5555, which I highly recommend.

• AIBO ERS-210

ERS-210-headersmSONY’S 2nd AIBO was the ERS-210, which had smaller ears and a shorter tail.  Aesthetic differences aside, the ERS-210 had name imprinting and voice recognition capabilities which were absent in the ERS-110, allowing users to more naturally interact with it.  A “mature” ERS-210 could understand and react to 50 spoken commands.  What’s more, it had improved mobility (20 DOF instead of 18), more facial expression LEDs, and additional touch sensors in its chin and back (adding to the one on its head).  All of these extras came at a reduced cost, from $2500 for the ERS-110 down to $1500 for the ERS-210, and it was available both on the internet and in retail stores.

Some of the new features included the ability to take photos.  Simply telling the ERS-210 to “Take a photo” would cause it to take a snapshot of whatever it was looking at.  If you suggested “Let’s play!”, the ERS-220 would attempt to mimic the rise and fall of your voice in a round of copycat.  If you said “Let’s dance” it would perform a dance routine accompanied by its own light show and sounds.  Expected commands like “sit” and “lie down” were also accounted for.