What’s going on with the HRP-2 robot that can push a wheelchair and fetch juice for you from the fridge, especially at a technical level? After seeing several press reports covering the ‘pop’ and ‘wow’ aspects of the robotics project, we decided to dig a little deeper – kind of take a peek under the hood, so to speak.
The robotics project, sponsored by the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, is trying to develop robotic systems – primarily a humanoid robot – to provide housekeeping support at home, assist the elderly, and support the disabled and handicapped.
Earlier this week they announced and demonstrated some of the new functionality developed by the research institute, including a 3 dimensional vision system.
The new 3D vision system, named “VVV” for Versatile Volumetric Vision, replaces the more common single head mounted camera with four high precision color cameras. Not only does this improve the robots vision, it enables it to do it with much more accuracy and with an expanded field of view.
Along with the VVV system enhancements, laser based distance measuring equipment was built into the robot’s head. This allows it to build a 2 dimensional map of its environment for comparision with the VVV system’s visual input, so it can easily avoid obstacles – even whey they have been moved.
For interaction, the new robot head has a built-in microphone array with special software processing that enables it to distinguish between human voices and background noise.
Of course the most striking example of the robot’s new functionality was it’s ability to open the refridgerator door, locate, pickup, and bring back a cold drink. Although the general public may not realize it, the technical challenges that the researchers had to overcome for the robot to perform that basic task were truly amazing.
Project press release - January 23, 2006 (Japanese)
National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology – website (Japanese)