I’m finally getting through posting about the robots at IREX last week, but the one that is left on my list, the ROBOTIS Bioloid robot kit, may be of the most interest to amateur roboticists. There are several robot kits available these days, and they run the gamut from relatively simple and cheap to expensive and complicated. On the more affordable end of the spectrum are Lego Mindstorms and Radio Shack’s VEX system. More expensive (and complex) products include Kondo’s KHR-1. Korean manufacturer ROBOTIS offers systems similar to the KHR-1 in that they can be purchased in a kit form that includes a microcontroller, servos, sensors, frames, and wheels. Unlike the KHR-1 each kit can be assembled into a variety of different forms including a humanoid, dog, spider, or whatever you can imagine. If you need additional components to create your custom bot, ROBOTIS sells all of the parts individually as well. The Bioloid kit sells for $1500 USD.
Although it won’t be available commercially until mid-summer 2006, the Manoi made its debut at IREX last week. Manufactured by KYOSHO Corporation in conjunction with Kondo Kagaku Co., Ltd., the Manoi consists of a Tomotaka Takahashi-designed outer skin on top of a Kondo KHR-1 skeleton. The Manoi is very similar in appearance to the other robots Takahashi created at the Robo Garage including the Chronio and the Neon. According to KYOSHO, the outer covering, or “costume” as they call it, does not impede Manoi’s movement in any way, allowing for the same performance as the KHR-1. The projected price is $1400 USD which seems like a great deal since the unassembled KHR-1 kits are currently selling for $1445 in the US.
The Plen is one of the few humanoid robots to come out of IREX that I had not previously heard of. Unfortunately I have not been able to dig up much information on it yet either. What I have learned is that is being developed by Systec Akazawa, a Japanese aircraft parts maker. It has built-in Bluetooth that allows it to be controlled by a cellphone or pda as well as a computer. The Plen will go on sale in March of 2006 and cost approximately $2100 USD.
I must admit that I am having a hard time keeping up with all of the reports coming out of IREX. Even though I am falling behind, there are still a handful of robots in my backlog that I feel are worthy of mention, the first being the HOAP-3. Fujitsu has been developing the HOAP (Humanoid for Open Architecture Platform) series of robots for several years. The latest incarnation, the HOAP-3, was first announced in July of 2005. It stands 60 cm tall, weighs almost 9 kg, and is powered by a Pentium-M 1.1 GHz processor running Linux. It can respond to voice commands and process sounds and images. Remote computer control is possible via USB or built-in 802.11g WiFi.
At IREX, the HOAP-3 interacted with its human handlers, and then spent some time playing alone with a plastic bat and pink ball.
There are still a bunch of robots from IREX to cover, but Engadget’s got a story today about one (very important) person that was not completely enamored with the nuvos, Kondos, and HOAPs on display in Tokyo last week. The Father of Robotics himself, Joseph Engelberger, was at the show and not particularly enthused with what he saw.
He’s been quoted as saying, “These are toys that are being made, and nothing serious. Just stunts. There are dogs, dolls, faces that contort and are supposed to express emotion on a robot.” Additionally he referred to the robots on display as “pointless, expensive and unnecessary.”
Although the acronym IREX stands for International Robot Exhibition, not everything on display in Tokyo this week is a robot in the traditional sense. Take the HAL-5 bionic suit for example. Developed by Yoshiyuki Sankai of the University of Tsukuba in Japan over a period of more than ten years, the HAL-5, or hybrid assistive limb, was developed to help the elderly and people with physical disabilities walk and lift heavy objects. It was first unveiled at the World Expo in Aichi, Japan earlier this year and should be available for purchase before the end of the year at an estimated cost of $15,000 – $20,000.
Another familiar face on display at IREX this week was the nuvo. Manufactured by ZMP, Inc. and billed as “the first-home-use-type humanoid robot in the world,” the nuvo stands 39 cm tall and weights 2.5 kg. Looking more like a work of modern art than a fully functional robot, the nuvo has its designer Ken Okuyama, father of the Ferrari Enzo and Ferrari Rosa, to thank for its appearance. Make no mistake though, this is a serious robot.
With four sensors and 15 joints, the nuvo can walk, stand up on its own, and even roll over. ZMP has a lengthy video demonstrating it in action. It has integrated wireless-LAN and can be controlled via web browser, or it recognizes several verbal commands. The built-in speaker can play MP3s, and the camera in its head can capture images of its surroundings.
Although it’s been around for more than a year and a half, the Kondo KHR-1 robot made an appearance at IREX this week showing off its moves. Sozbots, Kondo’s manufacturer, bills it as a “fighting” robot, which makes sense since it was initially designed for participation in the Robo-One Robot Fighting Tournaments. Weighing 1.2 kg and standing 34 cm tall, the KHR-1 is available for purchase in the US for $1445 at Robo-One-USA.com. The robot comes as a kit and must be assembled from its raw parts. RoboSavvy.com has a very thorough guide detailing the assembly process from start to finish. It is definitely a project for serious amateur roboticists.
The IREX International Robot Expo 2005 is in full swing in Tokyo, Japan right now. Hundreds of companies, organizations and researchers have their robots on display for the public to interact with. From entertainment robots to cleaning bots to robotic receptionists, there are many fresh faces and some familiar ones as well.
One of the most popular exhibits this year is a robotic version of Pac-Man. Players of the game, developed by Bandai and Namco, are able to navigate a robot Pac-Man via remote control through a three dimensional maze complete with robot ghosts.