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Exoskeletons, Robot Companions, & More Italian Robots

The Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies of Pisa recently showcased some of their projects for the media.  Included in the presentation was the Sabian humanoid, codeveloped with Waseda University (based on the Wabian).  It’s part of “The Robot Companions for Citizens” project, which is one of six research projects competing for a billion euros ($1.2B USD)  in funding from the European Union.  That’s a huge chunk of change, which will be doled out over the course of the next ten years.  Currently the humanoid lacks arms and uses the child-like Robot Cub (iCub) head, which looks slightly bizarre on an adult-sized body.

“The idea is to get robots out of factories where they have shown their worth and to transform them into household machines which can live together with humans,” said Professor Dario, director of the college’s bio-robotics department.

Videos: PR2 Folds Laundry, Vintage SDR-3X, Transforming Robots

Today we’ve got some cool robot videos to share with you.  First up is one of several videos showing the PR2 autonomously folding clothing by researchers at UC Berkeley’s Robot Learning Lab.  Obviously there are some conceits involved: the clothes are already laying flat on a green table, which makes it easy for the robot’s machine vision software to detect its edges.  It then calculates a series of folds before going into action, which has been sped up in the video by four times.  Folding takes quite a bit longer than a person would, but the PR2 is limited by its processing speed (which will get faster with better technology).


[source: RLLBerkeley @ YouTube] & [UC Berkeley RLL]


CRIIF (Centre de Robotique Intégrée d-Île-de-France), a Parisian R&D lab, has built an odd-looking humanoid robot called SAMI.  The simple 3D-printed head was first shown at Innorobo 2011, and since then the robot has been selected as one of fifteen prototypes “most likely to be a commercial success” by a French website called Cap Digital.  That distinction means little, given that there weren’t many French robot prototypes at the show and CRIIF appears to be a member of the site.

With just three months, six team members, and a paltry budget of $100,000 USD to both design and build SAMI, some corners had to be cut.  That meant the body’s exoskeleton is basically a mannequin that was cut in half, and some simple piping covers its arms.  The upper-body sits on a large mobile base outfitted with Primesense sensors for obstacle detection, and its arms can be controlled using a Kinect sensor.  So far that’s about all this robot is capable of, though CRIIF believes it will go where few robots have gone before.

PROTO: Interview with Director Nick Pittom + Trailer

Nick Pittom’s first film, PROTO, is a 15 minute sci-fi short film that was shot at a real robotics lab in Denmark.  It immediately caught our attention, as it stars a computer-animated humanoid robot that wouldn’t look out of place here on Plastic Pals.  It turns out that was no coincidence – Nick is a fan of the site and used it to research his film’s subject.  We caught up with Nick over email to learn more about him and his film.  A trailer follows the interview.

Plastic Pals: Please introduce yourself to our readers.

Nick Pittom: Hey, I am Nick Pittom, 30, and I am a film maker from the UK.  I started with video and VFX when I was 15, playing around with one of the first commercially available digital capture cards. Myself and a friend, Chris Phillips, would place ourselves into X-Files and Terminator – or making our own version of the Matrix or whatever – stupid videos for fun. This continued through college, where I studied Art and Design and onto university where I studied Film and TV at Bournemouth University.

There myself and the same friend produced stupid programs for the Student TV station – for fun more than anything – which I think is what really made it all worth while: it was enjoyable. I was not really doing it for ‘art’ or for a career, but because I had a great time doing it. The course itself was good, giving me many opportunities to experiment with ideas.

I spent Uni making a really bad Zombie film (which is mandatory these days, I believe) and also a spoof of Power Rangers called Mighty Moshin’ Emo Rangers – which actually made it’s way onto MTV2 in the UK.

Hanson Robotics: Smaller, More Affordable Zeno In 2013

The production unit (left) next to its prototype (right)

Hanson Robotics is showing the first production unit of their miniature humanoid robot, the Robokind.  Its semi-realistic head with moving eyelids and lips is unique among this size of commercially-available research platforms.  Prototypes are already being put to use in autism treatment therapy (see here).

Founded in 2003, the Texas-based company first unveiled a Zeno prototype back in 2007.  At the time, David Hanson suggested the robot would cost just $300 – a prediction that would come back to bite him (the cheapest model Robokind starts at $11,500 USD).  This puts the Robokind roughly in line with similarly-sized research platforms like the Robotis DARwIn-OP and Aldebaran Robotics’ NAO, but prevents it from ever becoming a mass-market toy.  That may be about to change, as hinted at in the following video.

Dreams Come True: Real Mecha Debuts At Wonder Fest 2012

The Kuratas mecha (aka Vaudeville), an outrageous art project by Suidobashi Heavy Industry, made its official public debut at Wonder Fest 2012 this weekend.  Built by iron worker and artist Kogoro Kurata (right, above photo), Kuratas stands 3.8 meters (12 ft 5 inches) tall and weighs 4,500 kg (9920 lbs).

Kurata has some experience building giant robots, having previously created a statue based on the Scopedog mecha from the anime Votoms.  He was also involved with JFE’s project to build a life-sized statue of Tetsujin 28-go (Gigantor), but had to quit the project due to various circumstances.

In January 2010 he built a vehicle for Castrol Japan that could kick a soccer ball at 200 kph (see here).  It wasn’t long after that that he got the idea to build a real robot that could be driven by a human passenger, and by September 2011 had built much of the main chassis.

Videos: Justin Dances, NAO Descends A Ramp, & MIT’s Cheetah Runs

The researchers at the German Aerospace Center love their robot Justin so much they even spend some of their free time playing with it.  Take this video, for example, of Justin performing the iconic dance moves seen in the diner scene from Pulp Fiction.  Now if they would just connect Justin’s torso to that pair of legs they’re working on…


[source: Bram Vanderborght @ YouTube]

Android Baby “Affetto” Gets Its Upper Body

Having previously developed several baby robots, the researchers at Osaka University’s Asada Lab are using that know-how to build the most realistic infant robot ever made.   It has been about a year and a half since we saw Affetto, which was just a head capable of making a few expressions.  Now the researchers have published a video showing the robot’s new upper-body, which contains 20 pneumatic actuators to move its arms, neck, and spine.  This is in addition to the 12 degrees of freedom in its head.  Although pneumatic actuators are more difficult to control compared to electric motors, they are flexible, allowing for direct physical interaction (a big plus if you want to be able to cuddle it).


Currently the body weighs just 3 kg (6.6 lbs).  Eventually it will be covered in the same soft urethane elastomer gel as the robot’s face, which will not only make the robot more inviting to touch but safer to interact with.  And they plan to add tiny hands to the arms, and legs can’t be too far behind.  The project is being funded through to 2016, so we can expect further developments.