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• AIBO ERS-110

ERS110-headerIn 1997, Sony’s Digital Creatures Laboratory began work on what would define an entirely new type of consumer product: the entertainment robot.  In May 1999 SONY launched the AIBO ERS-110 (AI for Artificial Intelligence and BO for robot; ERS for Entertainment Robot System; and aibo means “companion” or “pal” in Japanese).

The first production model was designed by the famous artist Sorayama Hajime, who gained esteem in the ’80s for his pin-up style paintings depicting chrome-plated female robots and scintillating women.   Although the ERS-110 lacked speech recognition, users could issue commands with a remote, and it had a camera in its nose which allowed it to perceive the world, speakers for auditory functions, and a touch sensor on top of its head to respond to a user’s handling.  The ERS-110 had 18 degrees of freedom, allowing it to mimic the actions of a real dog, all of which were controlled by an on-board computer with a memory card slot to expand its capabilities (sold separately).

• Ninomiya-kun

NINOMIYAKUN-HeaderWaseda University’s Information, Production and Systems Research Center (IPSRC), in collaboration with Kitakyushu National College of Technology and Shanghai Jiao Tong University, have created a robot capable of reading elementary-level books.  The robot takes its name from Ninomiya Sontoku, a beloved 19th-century agricultural leader who managed to overcome poverty through intense study, often depicted carrying wood on his back while reading a book.

Ninomiya-kun, standing 1 meter tall and weighing 25 kg, debuted June 11th 2009 at a robot trade fair in Kitakyushu, where it demonstrated its ability by reading Japanese fairy-tales from an ordinary children’s book.  The robot’s cameras can detect a vocabulary of 2,300 printed kanji, hiragana, and katakana characters, which it reads aloud via speech synthesis.  Eventually the researchers hope the robot will read books to children and the elderly, but in the meantime they are working to increase the robot’s character recognition and emotive quality.

The ability to read printed material has already been implemented in KIST’s humanoid robot Mahru, as well as iRobi-Q (a household robot developed by Yujin Robotics).

・Ninomiya-kun @ Waseda University IPS

[Yomiuri Online] via [Pink Tentacle]

“Dr.Robot’s” Vintage Robots Restored

Aizawa-headersmThe late Dr. Aizawa Zirou (1903-1996), the first director of the Children’s Institute for Cultural Activities Foundation, built around 9 large humanoid robots between 1950-55 which became famous through local events, television appearances, magazines, and at Osaka’s Japan World Expo in 1970. Since then they’ve been asleep inside an old warehouse in Yubari, Hokkaido, and only recently rediscovered.

The Kanagawa Institute of Technology’s (KAIT) Department of Mechatronics is busy restoring the robots to working condition, and will be showcasing them in all their glory at Japan Robot Festival 2009 in Toyama.  Following that, they will be displayed in art galleries and museums around the country as budget allows.  The restoration project is attempting to use original parts where possible, though procuring working vacuum tubes and the like isn’t easy.

Amazingly, Dr. Aizawa was friends with the founder of SONY, Masaru Ibuka, and the creator of Astro Boy, Osamu Tezuka, with whom he established the Children’s Institute for Cultural Activities Foundation in 1927. Their ideal of improving the welfare of children through scientific toys led Dr. Aizawa to create 800 humanoid robot toys. He even trademarked the term “robot” in 1934 in Japan, though the term was actually invented by Karl Capek for his 1920 play Rossum’s Universal Robots, and later grew in prominence thanks to sci-fi magazines like Amazing Stories (1926) and Fritz Lang’s classic film Metropolis (1927). Images and a video of the working bots after the break.

[source: Impress Robot Watch]

Children’s Institute (official site JP)

• Volleyball Playing Robot


Back in 1997, Toshiba unveiled the Beach Volley Ball Playing Robot as part of their vision for human-friendly robots (Toshiba believes that robots will be commonplace in homes and hospitals in the future).  It’s an old (but fun) project which seems to have grown from Toshiba’s industrial robots built for maintaining power lines and nuclear power plants.

Tokyo University’s baseball robots

The baseball batting robots are two robot arms, where one is the pitcher and the other is the batter.  The pitcher can target the strike zone at 40kph (25mph) 90% of the time, while the batter can hit the ball 90% of the time only 3.5 meters (11ft) away.  In order to do this, the robots require cameras that capture the position of the ball at one thousand frames per second.  What appears very fast to human eyes can be tracked slowly by the camera, which then informs the robot arms’ control software exactly where the ball is.  In the future, the researchers expect the pitcher to throw the ball at 150kph (90mph), while the batter should be able to hit the ball in specific directions.

The baseball batting robot has been making the rounds through various news outlets since last week, and while the demonstration was cool, the object tracking computer vision software that allows the robot arms to perform the feat remains an unsung hero.  Doing a little digging into the Ishikawa Komuro Laboratory (part of Tokyo University) website unearthed some cool videos that show off just how accurate their computer vision software really is.

For example the robot arms can not only pitch and bat balls, but can catch them at high speeds, dribble them so fast you can barely keep an eye on the ball, position themselves properly to shake a roving human hand, and tie knots with one hand.  And while they haven’t perfected directional hitting, the robot can bat the ball into high or low nets repeatedly, even when the ball is thrown by a human pitcher.  A different type of computer vision software tracks an object’s position in 3d space (videos after the break).

[source: Mainichi] via [Pink Tentacle]

• RoboCar Z


ZMP unveiled their latest educational robot kit, the RoboCar, on June 10th 2009.  Intended for businesses and universities interested in implementing and testing autonomous systems for automobiles, but at significantly lower cost and safety risk compared to a real car.  Expected benefits of the system include: initial testing of autonomous systems; car-to-car wireless communication; and a common coding environment (MATLAB / Simulink), which should lead to simple integration within embedded systems courses. Videos and more after the break.

Cafero put to work in Robot Cafe


Yujin Robot’s drink serving robot “Cafero”, is taking and delivering orders from customers at the Robot Cafe located in Songdo U-city, South Korea. The city is part of Incheon Free Economic Zone, an area designed to provide information on the city’s cutting-edge ubiquitous industry and opportunities for citizens to experience it firsthand.

[source: Yonhap News]

Mitsubishi’s Wakamaru participates in Osaka festival

wakaphoto_3Mitsubishi’s Wakamaru turned out to help celebrate the Osaka Tenjin Festival on July 25th 2009, a tradition which dates back at least 1000 years.  One of the three largest festivals in Japan, it attracts more than a million visitors annually.  One of the processions is called Funatogyo, a procession of about 100 boats transporting Shinto deities along the Dojimagawa River.  Osaka University has participated in the festival for the last five years, but this is the first year to include a robot on the Handai boat.

Wakamaru appeared before an audience of 200 people, dressed in the attire of the Heian period (794-1185) omukae ningyo (welcome dolls) placed onboard to greet the floating Shinto shrines as they pass by.  Incidentally this is the same style of dress that would have suited Minamoto Yoshitsune (“Ushiwakamaru”, Wakamaru’s namesake).  The tradition of placing welcome dolls on the prow of boats carrying shrine parishioners gradually died out after World War II.

Wakamaru’s performance breathes new life into the tradition for the 21st century.  Engineers at Osaka University added the motions of the Osaka-jime, the festival’s customary rallying call and clap, to the robot’s repertoire of morning exercise routines prior to the event.  Associate Professor Koizumi commented that,”Typically outdoor performances are tricky, but everything turned out ok.”

[source: Robonable] and [Yomiuri] via [Pink Tentacle]