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• 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]

• HRP-1


AIST (National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology), working with Kawada Industries and other firms in Japan, first demonstrated their HRP (Humanoid Robotics Project) series of robots in 1998.  Their ground-breaking work has led to several impressive full sized humanoids.

The first publicly demonstrated robot in the series was actually just a yellow Honda P3 on loan to them from Honda for research purposes.  AIST would later modify the P3 through new control software.  Later, the addition of an LCD screen into its head that displayed simple facial expressions, and more robust manipulators, allowed the robot to go beyond the P3’s functionality.

Kobe’s Tetusjin 28 Monument shaping up nicely

If there was any doubt that the Tetsujin 28 monument is going to kick ass, consider this: his head is the smallest part.  The 18m (59ft) monument is being built in Kobe, the birthplace of Tetsujin 28’s creator, Mitsuteru Yokoyama.  Its unveiling in Wakamatsu park, Nagata ward, is part of the revitalization efforts that are still ongoing after the Kobe earthquake in 1995.  Located just a few minutes from the Shin-Nagata station, the statue will reflect the town’s building spirit.  It is expected to be completed in late October 2009.  Video of the statue’s construction after the break.



[source: Impress Robot Watch]

• Mutant / AIBO prototypes

MUTANT-headerIn the first half of the ’90s Dr. Toshitada Doi (the inventor of the compact disc) was working at SONY when he heard that a competitor was going to release a housecleaning robot. Although skeptical of a robot’s ability to perform such a complex task, it led Dr. Doi to formulate the idea of a new type of commercial product that could take advantage of the recent advancements in artificial intelligence, micro processing power, and computer vision.  Of particular importance was the simulation of different emotions, which would allow an autonomous robot to adjust to its environment and a user’s needs.

As far as Dr. Doi was concerned, his robot didn’t actually have to do anything useful, which made pitching the idea to the higher-ups a difficult job. In AIBO Town (magazine issue July 2000) he explained his design philosophy:

If I think about what humans are truly searching for – though I am a little hesitant to put it into words – I believe it is love, healing, and relaxation. A computer that provides love and healing for people. That is AIBO.