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Takara Tomy Unveils I-SODOG at Tokyo Toy Show 2012

Takara Tomy has unveiled the latest in their line of Omnibot toy robots at Tokyo Toy Show 2012.  The I-SODOG is small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, but boasts 15 servo motors that can reproduce realistic movement.

When activated, its eyes light up and users can interact with it through more than 50 voice commands or with a smartphone thanks to a Bluetooth connection.  Using a custom app, it will perform tricks on command such as shake a paw, dance to songs you’ve downloaded, or move intuitively by simply tilting the phone.  There’s also a Tamagotchi-style artificial life component, allowing you to scold bad behavior or reward it with digital doggy treats, which will foster different “personalities” over time.

The robot pup comes equipped with touch sensors, microphones, and a 3D accelerometer to prevent it from falling over.  If its younger owners don’t have access to a smartphone, they can command it with the included remote controller. It also includes some practical features, such as a voice mail system and an alarm function.  And if two I-SODOGs are brought together, they will exchange data with one another.


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At just 15 cm (6″) in height and length, and weighing 400 grams (0.8 lbs), the I-SODOG is considerably smaller than SONY’s ill-fated AIBO.  But thanks to its smartphone connectivity, it has the potential to outsmart all of the older robot dogs in the kennel.  According to Takara Tomy, it will have some autonomy similar to the AIBO, and operate for between 1~2 hours on AA batteries.  The I-SODOG is expected to retail for around 30,000 JPY ($380 USD) in spring 2013.

In 2007, the company released a miniature humanoid robot toy called the I-SOBOT, which revived its brand of home robots that were popular in the 1980s.

[source: Gigazine (JP)]

This Little Robot Can Sure Run Its Ass Off

We’ve all seen MABEL, the biped robot built at the University of Michigan that can run at 6.8 miles per hour (10.9 kph).  Now, thanks to a collaboration between Professor Mingguo Zhao (Department of Automation, Tsinghua University) and researchers at the Italian Institute of Technology, MABEL has a miniature cousin.  The two projects aren’t really related, but they do share much in common: both are incredibly fast and are capable of negotiating unforeseen changes in terrain, and both rely on a boom to maintain balance along the Sagittal plane (for now).

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According to the video description, Prof. Mingguo Zhao is the professor of the Robot Control Lab who developed the fast walking/running algorithm base on the Virtual Slope Walking, which belongs to the realm of the limit cycle approach.  If they can achieve similar results in their free-standing humanoids (Tsinghua’s Team Hephaestus’ RoboCup robots can be seen in the background), they could run circles around their opponents!

[source: Alebotics @ YouTube]

Toyota Retires Trumpet-Playing Partner Robot

Well, this is some sad news. On Friday Toyota announced that one of its Trumpet-Playing Partner Robots (nicknamed “Harry”) would retire from active duty. This particular model made its debut at the Aichi Expo in 2005, and was starting to show its age through everyday wear and tear.  Its farewell concerts took place at 12:30 pm and 4 pm on Sunday, June 10th 2012, where it was accompanied by a pair of (human) trombonists.

The robot has far exceeded the initial plans to have it perform for three years, having toured multiple countries and played five minute pieces up to six times a day at its station in Nagoya.  Its repertoire of about a dozen songs included an anime medley, “I Just Called to Say I Love You”, “Moon River”, and a Disney medley featuring “Hi Ho”, “Whistle While You Work”, “When You Wish Upon a Star”, and “The Mickey Mouse Club March”.  It was not unusual for crowds to gather around to enjoy the robot, with youngsters often commenting that they’d like to build a robot one day.

The 145 cm (4’9″) tall, 40 kg (88 lbs) robot used artificial piston-driven lungs to blow air through rubberized lips, and was able to play individual notes using its fingers.  Luckily Toyota will continue to exhibit a Trumpet-Playing Partner Robot at the Toyota Kaikan Exhibition Hall for those who want to see it in person, but there’s no telling for how long.  They suggest the robots are missing parts from years of maintenance.


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In 2007, the company unveiled a Violin-Playing Partner Robot, however due to the delicate touch required to play a violin it is only shown on special occasions (such as at the Japanese pavilion at the Shanghai Expo 2010, see here).  In 2009 the company published conceptual images of Partner Robots on the Moon in 2020 (see here) and even patented their design, but Toyota’s focus seems to have shifted away from humanoids.  In the past few years the company has favored the Winglet, a personal mobility vehicle similar to the Segway, and a walk-assist device instead.

I hope that Toyota will once again wow us with a new Partner Robot in the future.  The Toyota Partner Robots, which harken back to the Japanese tradition of karakuri ningyo, rank very high on my list of personal favorites.  It seems like a missed opportunity that Disney never set up a semi-permanent attraction featuring one, as they have done with Honda’s ASIMO for the past several years.

[source: Asahi, Goo News (JP)] via [KMoriyama @ Twitter]

• Prometheus

The Alien film franchise has seen better days. The last few films, including spin-offs that combined it with the Predator franchise, are rightly despised by fans of the original. Even H.R. Giger (the artist responsible for the nightmarish alien design) railed against the ill-conceived fourth film with his own “Alien Insurrection” website. It is therefore somewhat understandable that in its marketing, Prometheus has tried to distance itself from the Alien brand.

Nevertheless, it was with great expectations that Ridley Scott announced he was returning to his seminal sci-fi horror story to further explore its universe. Surely he would set right again that which had lost its way. Well, not entirely…

As expected it’s a visually stunning film (indisputably one of the best looking 3D films made to date), and contrary to some critics it does offer concrete answers to some of the mysteries of the original film.  But it’s not a perfect script, and with so much to live up to it was bound to disappoint some viewers.  It’s difficult to go any further without entering spoiler territory, so beware.

• Monster World IV

developed by Westone, published by SEGA / 1994.04.01, 2012.05.10
1 player / 2 save slots / Genesis (Megadrive), Wii, PS3, Xbox 360

SEGA has finally published an English version of Monster World IV, the final entry in the Wonder Boy series (originally released for the Genesis / Megadrive in 1994). In this game the titular hero Wonder Boy has been replaced by a gypsy girl named Asha (which explains why Wonder Boy isn’t in the title), but it otherwise retains the action-adventure flavor the series is known for.

It is now available as a download for the Wii’s Virtual Console (900 Wii points or $9) and the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 for around $5 (Nintendo’s price brackets are more rigid and out-of-whack than the other consoles).

Similar in style to other 2D adventure games (such as Zelda 2, the Dragon Slayer series, and the sidescrolling Ys games), you’ll jump on platforms, slash enemies to ribbons, and solve puzzles in mazes. Along the way you’ll collect gold to upgrade your equipment and find items that are needed to progress. Combat is very simple: like in Zelda 2 you can stab upward and downward when jumping, and pull out your shield by holding down to defend yourself.  Each enemy has its own unique patterns that can be memorized to help you dispatch them more easily.

• HyQ

Of the handful of quadrupeds being built around the world, Boston Dynamics has been hogging most of the attention with their Cheetah, BigDog, and AlphaDog robots.  But they may have a worthy challenger in the hydraulic quadruped (HyQ) project in development at the Italian Institute of Technology’s Department of Advanced Robotics.

The project began in 2008, and by autumn of 2010 HyQ was being tested on a treadmill.  Then in May it was taken outside where it managed to achieve a speed of 2 meters per second (7.2 kph [4.5 mph]) with a walking trot gait.  They expect to achieve even faster speeds with a running trot, which they are currently working on.

HyQ measures 1 meter in length and stands just shy of 1 meter (3’3″) tall.  Its aluminum alloy and stainless steel frame weighs 90kg  (198 lbs) including its power source, which will be added to the robot soon.  Using a combination of 2 hydraulic actuators and 1 electric motor per leg, it can generate enough power to jump and absorb ground impacts.  It goes without saying, but it wasn’t all that long ago that robots like this couldn’t jump at all.  It is equipped with position and force sensors on each joint, and an IMU in its body, allowing it to recover if it trips on an obstacle.  This ability to react spontaneously stems from its use of the same control software developed for LittleDog at USC, thanks in part to the work of team member Jonas Buchli.


KIST’s Humanoid Robot Research Center was established in 1994, and immediately began development of what is considered the country’s first humanoid robot. Some 15 PhDs and 70 researchers from various universities worked on the project, with some assistance from Hyundai Heavy Industries. Many, such as Dr. Munsang Kim, have continued to work on humanoid robots in the years since. The 8 billion KRW project (approximately $4.7 million USD at the time) was eventually completed in 1999.

It seems like more than just coincidence that they built CENTAUR following the Taejon Expo of ’93, where a nuclear inspection robot with a similar configuration appeared at the Japanese pavilion. In 1990 KAIST had built a quadruped walking robot called KAISER 2, but no bipedal robots had been developed in Korea, so CENTAUR relied on the stability provided by four legs. It was able to walk at a pace of 1 meter per minute, with its Lithium-ion battery lasting about 20 minutes.

CENTAUR stood 1.8 meters (5’11″) tall and weighed 150 kg (330 lbs), or 180kg (397 lbs) with its battery. It was said to contain 73 motors, 160 sensors, and 6 CPUs with a total of 37 degrees of freedom (mouth x1, neck x2, trunk x2, 2 arms x7, 2 hands x3, 4 legs x3). For complex tasks its upper-body could be teleoprated by a human wearing a special vest.

The ART Project’s Nuclear Inspection Centaur Robot

After the earthquake last year and the resulting damage to the Fukushima nuclear plant, observers criticized Japan’s lack of preparedness. In particular, many felt that the Japanese robotics sector’s focus on expensive humanoids had squandered time and resources better spent on more specialized robots.  However, this isn’t totally accurate.  The Japanese government, corporations, and universities have been working on robots for just this sort of problem for decades.  Back in the 1980s the Japanese government invested 20 billion JPY (still less than $100 million dollars at the time) into a massive eight-year program to build three types of advanced robots for hazardous environments.

The ART (Advanced Robotics Technology) Project had goals that were too big for any one institution to achieve, so a consortium called ARTRA (Advanced Robotics Technology Research Association) was formed. Financed and controlled by the Agency of Industrial Science and Technology, ARTRA brought two major government organizations, the Mechanical Engineering Laboratory (MEL; now known as AIST) and the Electrotechnical Laboratory (ETL), together with 18 corporations under the same banner, along with the support of academia.

The ART robots were designed for three major areas: nuclear plants, undersea oil rigs, and a third for disaster prevention in refineries.

The nuclear inspection robot would have a sensor head, four legs, two 7-DOF arms, and four-fingered hands with pressure sensitive finger tips (this configurarion led to it being known as the Centaur robot). It would be paired with a smaller, wall-climbing partner that used suction cups to adhere to wall surfaces. This would allow it to “climb up and down stairs, step over piping or other impediments, and relocate itself at high speed.”

It would have to work in 70 degrees (158 degrees Farenheit), 90% humidity, and 100 roentgens of radiation per hour. What started as a 1/3-scale model of the four-legged mechanism eventually became a robot measuring 188 cm (6’2″) tall, 127 cm (4’2″) long, and weighing 700 kg (1,543 lbs).