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KAIST donates Human-friendly Welfare Robots

On June 18th 2009, KAIST’s Human-friendly Welfare Robot System Research Center donated Human-friendly Welfare Robots to the National Rehab clinic.  These include robotic wheelchairs and beds, as well as other assistive technology for the old and infirm.  The very friendly-looking little robot below appears to be a new model of the Steward robot “Joy”, which was developed as part of an automated bedroom that featured voice activated appliances.


The director at National Rehab made a statement in support of robots at the donation ceremony.  “The Welfare Robot donation continues our research and development of rehab assistive technology, which will lead to the improvement in the level of the rehabilitation of patients, and  is expected to contribute to the rehabilitation industry,” he said.

[source: Paran]

Tokyo, time-lapsed

For me, big cities tend to feel oppressive for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is their environmental toll.  Having said that, I am drawn to them for their spectacular scale, which promises hidden oases and secret sanctuaries from the bustle of the giant hive.  This video bottles some of the magic and mystery of such a place – enjoy.

Video (Mirror):

[Samuel Cockedey] via [CScout Japan]

• Moon

Moon-headersmThis past weekend I went to the movies, and it was for a good cause. I went to see Moon, which is classical science fiction that generally doesn’t get made these days. The trailer raised enough questions to peak my interest (though I don’t suggest you watch the trailer if you plan to see the film), and what with the 40th anniversary of the Moon landing, I thought what the hell.

Moon is clearly steeped in some of the great sci-fi films of the past, from its calm computer a.i. companion GERTY who will remind you of the HAL 9000, to the stark moon base setting that could easily pass for the interior of Alien’s Nostromo. Aesthetic similarities aside, Moon brings much food for thought to the genre, exploring different ideas that haven’t been done as well, at least not in recent memory, and all on a surprisingly skimp budget of only $5 million.

• Chroino

Chroino balances on one footChroino (a name derived from “to chronicle” and “kuroi” [lit. black]) is a diminutive humanoid robot designed by Tomotaka Takahashi of Kyoto University’s ROBO-GARAGE.  While conventional robot designs are obsessed with practicality, Chroino is a robotic work of art; a kinetic sculpture with a life of its own.

Takahashi-san wanted to eliminate the awkward walking style of robots, which tend to walk and run with constantly bent knees, leading some to speculate they desperately need to relieve themselves (take Asimo’s running gait, for example).  With his SHIN-Walk technology (lit. Silky Walk) Chroino walks more naturally with a smooth and steady swagger that earned him a spot on TIME’s list of Coolest Inventions of 2004.

One of the reasons Takahashi-san likes to create smaller robots is to dampen the public’s unrealistic expectations of them.  Chroino has a limited repertoire: he can sit up and stand up on his own; dust off his hands; take a few steps; and balance on one foot.  He can also kick a small soccer ball around – but he’s not much of an athlete.

• Iowa State University’s Humanoid Robot


Iowa State University has developed their own humanoid robot to perform procedural learning.  Though the robot lacks a lower body and is therefore unable to move around on its own, it has two (rather large) Barrett Whole Arm Manipulators for arms, and a custom-designed head with stereo vision capable of simple emotional expression.  Its three-fingered hands are flexible enough to perform a variety of grasping motions, using fingers 1 and 3 as opposable thumbs when necessary.

The philosophy behind the research is to teach the robot the properties of its surroundings similar to the way a child or animal learns during early development, through direct experience.  The robot has already learned to identify objects from the sounds they make when being touched, pushed, held, and shaken.

The robot used a pair of scissors to cut the ceremonial ribbon for the opening of Iowa State University’s Electrical and Computer Engineering building, where the robot makes its home in the Developmental Robotics Lab.  Izaak Moody, an undergraduate in the College of Art and Design, is responsible for designing the robot’s friendly head, and has created some nice rendered animations showing the robot’s emotional range.  The previously posted robot Archie from the Universities of Manitoba and Vienna could learn a lot from this.  Videos and media after the break.

[source: Developmental Robotics Lab @ Iowa State University]

• Chibi-Robo!

developed by Skip/published by Nintendo/2006.02.07
1 Player/1 disc/Nintendo Gamecube/Nintendo Wii (New Play Control)

Skip’s first Gamecube game, Giftpia, never made it across the Pacific despite the intense interest of curious gamers starved of RPGs.  Luckily, Chibi-Robo didn’t suffer the same fate.

Chibi-Robo plugs in to recharge
Chibi-Robo recharging

Chibi-Robo shrinks players down to the small size of its titular star, a tiny robot built only to make people happy.  Like Mr. Mosquito, Pikmin, Katamari Damacy, and The Minish Cap, Chibi-Robo places a large emphasis on exploring the world from a worm’s eye view.  The entire game takes place in and around the household of the Sanderson family.

Up Close & Personal with Evolta 2.0

Panasonic held a send-off party for Tomotaka Takahashi and his 20-odd crew that are going to attempt a new world record at the Lemans 24 hours race course in France, where the media was able to get some nice photos and video of the redesigned Evolta robot (and vehicle).


Evolta himself is about 17cm tall, with the vehicle about 30cm wide, 20cm high, and 20cm long and can travel at 1.3kph. Two DC motors powered by AA Evolta batteries spin the front wheels, while the passive wheel in the back causes Evolta’s legs to pedal by way of a pulley. They’re made of carbon fiber and plastic, which should be strong enough to survive the heat emanating from the race track (the circuit boards are considered relatively safe inside Evolta’s body). The race course is 4,185 m, which should provide plenty of room for Evolta’s challenge of lasting 24 hours, and should earn him another Guinness Book World Record for longest distance traveled by a remote controlled car. The race date is set for August 5th, 10am.

Apparently besides the challenges of going uphill and braking and turning while going downhill (which have been addressed in the final robot), insects come out at night which can stop Evolta in its tracks due to the small wheels. Takahashi-san even said that he had to sweep snails away during the testing phase. The biggest challenge of all is the weather, which is unpredictable compared to the batteries’ duration, he said.

Willis Russel, President of Guinness World Records Office Japan, also attended the press event. He commended Panasonic for its ambitious project, and said that if there were problems on the race course they would attempt the feat on a circular rail like the one in the photos (after the break).

[source: Impress Robot Watch]

• 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]