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• Topobo


Topobo is a lego-like construction set with a twist: certain parts have kinetic memory.  Combining active and passive modular parts, just about anyone can construct forms that can be taught how to move.  The “actives” have motors which can record and play back how they’ve been repositioned.  Sensor modules called “backpacks” add sensor feedback and variable controls directly to the actives, which can be controlled without the need for programming: simply tune the sensor’s dial by hand to modify the speed, size, timing, and orientation of a recorded motion.  Other backpacks are equipped with sensors, such as light sensors (allowing your creation to react to varying light conditions).  The complexity of your creation can be further enhanced with “queens”, which can control many other actives by copying its own movement to them simultaneously.

Topobo was invented at MIT’s Media Lab by Hayes Raffle and Amanda Parkes.  With a little ingenuity (or trial and error), you can create walking quadrupeds, rolling snakes, and whatever else you can imagine.  Check out the videos after the break.

[source: K. Moriyama's diary]

Agricultural Machinery Repairman’s Recycled Mechanical Artworks


An agricultural machinery repairman and artist known by locals as “Mr.Robot”, has been busy making sculptures out of junk parts for the past decade.  He’s finally getting some critical attention, and no thanks to any formal arts education.  Some of his 140 creations, which include objects of interest, robots, dinosaurs, and animals such as penguins, will be displayed for 22 days at the Gwangju City Art Museum Children’s Gallery, South Korea.

Since 2001, the machinery repair shop has been overflowing with useless parts that not only cluttered the shop making it difficult to work, but would ultimately end up in the trash heap.  Rather than letting that happen, the talented and prolific Mr. Jubokdong (? 주복동 씨) decided he’d kill two birds with one stone, and try to fashion something useful out of them, even adding some new features in the process.  Take for example his DVD robot:


140 sculptures in only ten years is an amazing accomplishment and they look to be highly detailed, colorful creations that seem right at home given South Korea’s stance on robots in recent years.  Hopefully more photos of his work will surface following the gallery showing.

[Source: Asian Economy News]

• Wonder Kit Remocon Chaser 2


As of July 21st 2009, Kyohritsu has launched a new way to control their Wonder Kit called the Remocon (shorthand for remote control) Chaser 2.  The kit costs $30 USD and can be configured using identical parts for wheels and legs to those of the standard Wonder Kit.

The robot tracks the IR signal emitted from your tv/dvd remotes using a light sensitive photo transistor for good ol’ fashioned robot insect fun.  The robot is controlled by a PIC microcontroller and powered by four AA batteries and joins Wonder Kit’s line of accessories that include obstacle avoidance and line tracking, and the Puchi Robo series.

[source: Impress Robot Watch]

・Wonder Kit (official website JP)

Vstone Robot Center now offering 3D printing services

Vstone’s recently opened Robot Center has a new service that will hopefully lead to some interesting new custom robots.  Customers can now have their 3d modeled parts (using the common STL file type) printed into ABS plastic via their 3D printing service, which starts at 3990 JPY ($40 USD) plus the cost of materials.  The printer’s volume (203 x 203 x 300mm) should be more than enough room for most designs.  There’s also an aluminum CNC machine which can cut metal panels (e.g. for custom servo brackets).

If there’s one thing that’s been holding back custom robots besides greater autonomy, it’s that builders are often restricted when it comes to designing and building exoskeletons.  Thanks to easy access to 3d printing technology like this, hobbyists who take the time to learn 3d CAD skills can potentially engineer both the insides and outside of their robot to look however they want them to.  Of course, humanoid robots aren’t the only ones that could benefit from custom exteriors – Vstone’s own Beauto Chaser and Beauto Balancer robot kits could also be spruced up, too.

Vstone is no stranger to creating custom designs using this technology; from Takeshi Maeda’s Omni-Zero series to their involvement in Team Osaka’s VisiON soccer bots, which are built from 3d printed parts.

Other online 3d printing services: Shapeways (EN), Thinglab (EN), Interpro (EN), Xardas (EN), Solid Concepts (EN), Offload Studios (EN)

[source: Impress Robot Watch]

Cyberdyne’s HAL exoskeleton is being tested in hospitals

HAL-headerAn offshoot of Professor Sankai’s work at Tsukuba University, Cyberdyne’s HAL (Hybrid Assistive Limb) robotic exoskeletal walk assist technology is being tested with real life old people. The system detects the angle of the hip, knee, and ankle joints, and sensors attached to the skin monitor nerve impulses from the brain to the muscles so the system is ready when an action, such as walking or standing are about to take place. It is expected that robotic exoskeletons such as HAL (and related DARPA initiatives) will help nurses lift bedridden patients and soldiers carry their gear in the near future. Video and media after the break.

Tekken 6 gets the freaky robot treatment

This undoctored screenshot is worth a thousand words, most of which are 4 letters long.  Granted, the Tekken series has always been home to robot fighters like Jack and Yoshimitsu, but as freaky as P-Jack was, he doesn’t hold a candle to this new robot chick.  And is it just me, or does Tekken 6 look terrible compared to Namco’s earlier fighter, Soul Calibur 4?


[source: Gamekyo]

NY Times reports on ailing Japanese robot market

The NY Times are reporting that the manufacturing robots industry in Japan is being hit hard due to the recession.  No need to comment on the robot industry in America, of course, since it’s pretty much non-existent.

Japanese industrial production has plummeted almost 40 percent and with it, the demand for robots.

At the same time, the future is looking less bright. Tighter finances are injecting a dose of reality into some of Japan’s more fantastic projects — like pet robots and cyborg receptionists — that could cramp innovation long after the economy recovers.

Kenji Hara, an analyst at the research and marketing firm Seed Planning, says many of Japan’s robotics projects tend to be too far-fetched, concentrating on humanoids and other leaps of the imagination that cannot be readily brought to market.

“Japanese scientists grew up watching robot cartoons, so they all want to make two-legged companions,” Mr. Hara said. “But are they realistic? Do consumers really want home-helper robots?”

Robot Factory, once a mecca for robot fans in the western city of Osaka, closed in April after a plunge in sales. “In the end,” said Yoshitomo Mukai, whose store, Jungle, took over some of Robot Factory’s old stock, “robots are still expensive, and don’t really do much.”

[source: Geekologie] via [Botjunkie]

While this news may be true for industrial robots, and expensive toys like the Pleo, it’s not all bad news. The NY Times failed to mention that Toyota just outlined the next 5 years for their Partner Robot program last month, which we reported on earlier.

NEDO (New Energy & Development Organization), which previously pumped millions into the development of many of the robots seen at the 2005 Aichi Expo (and indeed those being added to this blog), have shifted their funding to medical / rehabilitation robots. Tokyo University’s IRT Research Institute is working with Toyota, along with a dozen other companies to develop robots for this sector.

Unrelated to Japan but certainly an important note on future research, America’s NSF (National Science Foundation) also recently awarded $5 million to the research and development of humanoid robots in a large multidisciplinary, international effort involving KAIST’s latest version of their famous HUBO robot and several US universities, as we reported earlier.

The president of Speecys recently held an event in Japan where he outlined some of his company’s new robot’s features, and presented an interesting slide which showed the declining costs of their technology from 780,000 JPY ($8,262 USD)  for their earliest model down to 300,000 JPY ($3,177 USD) for their more recent SPC-101.  Early next year, Speecys and SEGA plan to introduce a new bipedal entertainment robot with internet connectivity that can fetch your emails, information from Wikipedia, etc., in the range of $200-$500 USD.

SPEECYS-slide1 SPEECYS-slide2

And as for Kenji Hara’s question, “Do consumers really want home-helper robots?” I think the answer is, “Yes, but it must be affordable and perform as advertised”.  One can only imagine the feeding frenzy that will take place in Japan when Honda finally marches ASIMO to market, which will no doubt sell out almost immediately even if it costs an arm and a leg.  While manufacturing may be down, it appears that the ever-elusive home and health care robots we’ve been promised for years are getting the bulk of the research grants, which means cool robots will be around for the foreseeable future.  The best is yet to come.

• Kondo KHR-3HV

KHR3-headerAs promised, Kondo unveiled the KHR-3HV humanoid robot kit at their 5th anniversary event (June 13th 2009), and Moriyama-san has captured it in beautiful HD video. Taller than the KHR-2HV at 40cm, the KHR-3HV immediately stands out with it’s new plastic head and chest covers, and somewhat large backpack.  At 120,000 JPY ($1220 USD) it’s definitely an attractive kit.

It has extra servos in its forearms allowing for greater flexibility, while also extending the arms to be in proportion with the legs. The legs have the hip extensions seen in the KHR-1HV, and have better balanced servo brackets in the ankles. The tub feet have been increased in size to compensate for the extra height.

Perhaps unsurprisingly given the current economic climate, Kondo has opted not to use this opportunity to accelerate adoption of their more powerful (and expensive) servos, though it does use a new KRS2552HV servo (270° operating angle, 14kg/cm torque).  Unlike previous versions, the servos communicate serially thereby eliminating messy wire problems.  This also means the robot runs on a new controller board (RCB-4HV).

Now that Kondo has enjoyed 5 years of success (with no end in sight), one wonders if they’ll finally hire a decent translator so that the rest of us can get in on the action without any worries?  Videos after the break.