Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Comet III

While fashionable bipedal entertainment robots grab all the headlines and certainly will change our lives in the future, some robot researchers are trying to make a real difference in the most needy places in the world right now. One such researcher is Kenzo Nonami at Chiba University. His group are building the "Comet" series of robots. The latest of which, Comet III is shown above. These robots are designed to detect land mines. In particular they will first be used in Afghanistan, a country which has 10 million mines that kill up to 300 people a month. Detecting the mines is a dangerous and slow job that is just crying out to be automated. Comet III is a big 900 kg robot that can move around on caterpillar tracks for speed and on 6 insect-like legs when it needs to pick its way through a minefield. It can negotiate terrain autonomously using advanced stereo-vision. It detects mines using metal detectors and ground piercing radar, marking the area for mine clearance machines. Some of the technology in Comet III will be used next year in another prototype that the team will take to Afghanistan for field testing. Comet IV is already being built. You can check out the labs homepage here.

Saturday, July 17, 2004

Interested in Japan?

You can see more about Japan in my other blog;

Aibo ERS-7

The new era in Japanese robotics probably began back in the late 1990s when Sony released Aibo, the robot dog. It was a big sucess and has been continually improved. This is the latest model, the ERS-7 (sunflowers optional).  I took this photo at the Sony showroom in Ginza, Tokyo. A great place to visit if you like gadgets.

What is it about robots in Japan?

Japan has a long history of making robots. In the 19th century there were tea-serving robots. These machines, called karakuri, had incredibly sophisticated mechanisms driven by a spring made from whale baleen (teeth-like body parts used in filtering food from sea water). A tea-serving automaton could move across a room bearing a tray of tea. Once the guest had taken the tea, emptied their cup and replaced it on the tray, the robot would turn and 'walk' away. Japan's modern love affair with robots probably began in the 1950s with an incredibly popular called Tetsuwan Atom (Atom Boy as he is known elsewhere). The cartoon, about a powerful but good robot boy influenced a whole generation and seemed to fix forever in the Japanese mind the firm belief that robots will only ever be our friends and benefactors.
Today Japan accounts for more than half the industrial robots in use in the world and probably has an even greater monopoly on leisure robots.