Our friends at IEEE Spectrum continue to cover ICRA 2012, and they’ve scored another scoop on one of the projects we were most excited to see. The MH-2 (Mini Humanoid) Wearable Communication Robot was presented by Yuichi Tsumaki, Fumiaki Ono, and Taisuke Tsukuda of Yamagata University’s Telerobotics Lab.
The Telerobotics Lab has played with the idea of wearable humanoid robots for the past decade. Earlier we looked at their T1 Telecommunicator, which featured a very simple humanoid that sat on your shoulder and could wave its arms and look around. The idea is that the carrier takes the robot avatar (and by proxy, its operator) with them where ever they go, providing them a form of tele-existence. Others have explored similar ideas, such as ATR’s Elfoid, and MIT’s MeBot, but those are more like a cellphone that you would call than a robot avatar that is constantly on.
The operator of the robot controls its actions through a simple motion-capture set-up (using a Kinect sensor, for example), or through a GUI on a computer. And the MH-2 is equipped with a stereo camera rig that allows the operator to see the carrier’s surroundings in immersive 3D while carrying on conversations through a microphone and speaker. Let’s say you want to take a distant or bedridden friend on a tour: they can “jack in” to the robot and experience your surroundings as you show them around.
As you can see in the video, the MH-2 is capable of much more sophisticated movements than comparable robots thanks to its 20 degrees of freedom, allowing for more natural body language to be conveyed through it’s diminutive upper-body. Each arm has 7 degrees of freedom (including a nifty 3-DOF wrist), 3 in its neck, 2 in its body, and (rather remarkably for a robot) an extra DOF that causes its chest to look as though it is inhaling and exhaling.
Similar to Samsung’s miniature humanoid April, the MH-2 offloads the bulk of its 22 actuators through a bundle of wires. They lead to a backpack worn by the carrier which looks a bit cumbersome, but seems a bit less so than the T1′s configuration. Currently the robot relies on a human carrier, but it would be equally at home on its own mobile base. In that case, the operator would take control of navigation and the robot would function as a standard telepresence robot rather than a wearable one.