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Videos: Tichno Ad, Chinese Segways, MIT Cheetah, & Curiosity

Another week, another set of robot videos to watch.  First we’ve got a new television commercial airing in Japan featuring seven Vstone Tichnos (humanoid robots developed specifically to promote stores and products).  They’re modeling a new line of durable school bags from Nitori, but it’s their Vocaloid singing voices which have caused something of a stir among audiences who are wondering if it is really Hatsune Miku’s voice.

Video:
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[source: Nitori movie @ YouTube] via [Jcast (JP)]




• SDUST Baby

The Shandong University of Science and Technology (SDUST) celebrated its 60th anniversary in late 2011 with the birth of the SDUST Baby. The robot, which stands roughly 170 cm (5’7″) tall, was developed in less than a year by four professors and eight students specifically for the anniversary.  It uses an LCD screen to display a variety of facial expressions such as laughing, crying, and so on.  It has 1 degree of freedom in its neck, 1 in its waist, and 4 per arm (shoulder x2, elbow x1, wrist x1).

Its head-mounted camera is used for face recognition, and it features some degree of speech recognition and synthesis.  For example, the researchers entered the photos and names of prominent alumni who would attend the anniversary event, allowing the SDUST Baby to name them on sight.  In another demonstration, the robot repeats words spoken by a researcher. The robot performed a simple dance routine to the tune of the school anthem for reporters before it was assigned to greet visitors at the school’s Historical Exhibition Hall celebrating the school’s accomplishments.

Granted, it’s not going to win any awards on its technical merits, but at least they took some time to make it look friendly (unlike say AndyVision, a recent example by the much more affluent CMU).  The research team had previously worked on industrial robots (this is their first service robot).  One of the team members said they plan to develop smaller, more refined service robots in the future.  A few more photos and videos follow after the break.

[source: SDUST, 2, 3, 4, SDKD, Sohu (CN)]

Video: Dongbu Robot’s HOVIS Lite, Eco & Genie

Dongbu Robot has published some videos showing their HOVIS (Home Servis) hobby robot kits.

I’ve been saying for years that manufacturers ought to follow the lead of the Kyosho Manoi series, which, thanks to its plastic exterior, has a lot more personality than the bare-bone robot kits you see on the market. Dongbu Robot has wisely opted to offer the kit both with an exoskeleton (HOVIS Eco) and without (HOVIS Lite) while marketing their new line of Herculex servo motors.

The HOVIS Eco stands 41.8 cm (16.4 inches) tall and weighs 1.8 kg (3.9 lbs).  It comes with a simple distance sensor in its chest (gyro is optional), and is powered by a 7.4V 3,000mA Li-Po battery.  The kit comes with a software bundle for programming the robot, which will suit beginners to experts.  You can also upgrade its functionality with optional sensors, higher torque servos, an “emoticon” head unit (color-changing LEDs), and it is interchangeable with parts from the HOVIS App and Genie kits.

Video (HOVIS Eco):

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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).

Video:

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

• SAMI

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.