ROBO-ONE type bipedal humanoid robots were first introduced a little over four years ago. Almost all of the current designs have at least 16 or more servo motors, advanced controller boards, and fairly involved kinematics. That's fine for the real devoted (maniac) robot fans, but as the robots have gotten more and more complex they have become way too difficult for the novice fans to master. One Osaka-based company, Robot Force, has a passion for creating simpler robot designs and kits that encourage and motivate people just getting started in robotics. Their latest creation, a fully functional walking and fighting robot, is truly amazing as you can see in the video clip below. And, it uses only 3 (yes, we said 'ONLY THREE') servos!
Robot Force sponsors quite a number of robot events in the Osaka and Kanto region of Japan, including Robo-Fight and Robo-Gong. In some ways, their robot competitions are similar to the more well known ROBO-ONE contests. The major difference is that the Robot Force organization firmly believes that everyone, no matter what their age, gender, or level of expertise, should be actively encouraged to participate.
On the other hand, while anyone can enter, the ROBO-ONE competitions tend to focus more on advancing and improving the state of the art. As a result, over time, it has become more and more difficult for beginners to have the confidence to enter and compete.
At the same time, Iwaki-san, the head of the Robot Force organization and a dedicated robot builder and competitor himself, believes that in order for number of robot players to increase dramatically, it must be FUN. Believe me, the Robo-Fight and Robo-Gong events are more fun than the proverbial barrel of monkeys, as we know from personal experience.
With that in mind, Robot Force set some basic design criteria for a low end, simple robot kit. In order to be considered a 'humanoid robot', their new robot would have to:
- Have two legs and arms
- Be able to walk around
- Swing its arms to punch and fight
- Get up from the ring mat either from a prone position or from its back
In addition, it had to:
- Be easy for the customer to understand, build, program and operate
- Have a low parts count with a minimal number of servos, since they are the most expensive single component in any humanoid robot design
- Be low cost enough so that a large number of customers could afford it
- Be a lot of FUN!
Robot Force already had a successful history with the ROPPO robot kit. Although the ROPPO design only uses 6 servos and a basic controller board, quite a few of their customers have done very well in robot competitions including the ROBO-ONE J contests.
With that know-how and history behind them, and some very aggressive yet positive goals to achieve, they created a totally new humanoid robot kit that only requires 3 servos. We can't be sure - we haven't checked with the Guiness World Records people yet - but it may certainly be a historical first.
Here's a video of the new robot prototype in action:
This new robot is definitely a "thinking-out-of-the-box" design. At first, it may seem a little odd or strange. We're used to humanoid robot designs that are modeled more directly on human anatomy. After all, that's why we call them 'humanoid.' But, as you look closer and begin to understand the design at a deeper level, it's really quite surprising and even beautiful (from our personal engineering/nerd perspective at least...).
For example, placing the battery pack and controller electronics on the feet lowers the center of gravity and makes the robot much more stable compared to other designs that are top heavy and fall over easily. And, the way that the overall robot geometry and weight distribution is leveraged to create motion and movement is also surprising. Most other humanoid designs require the servos to spend a huge percentage of their effort, power, and time just to maintain the robots balance. This new design seems to have a natural balance of its own without appearing to struggle or work hard to maintain stability.
This is still a prototype and is undergoing testing. Iwaki-san expects that there will be some additional changes and fine tuning before they are ready to release it to the market. While they have some internal goals as far as the kit pricing and packaging are concerned, it's too early for them to disclose that information publicly. Of course, we'll be watching the new robot closely and will report its progress here on Robots Dreams.
Robot Force Official Website (Japanese)