Most technology companies would be happy to roll out a new product one country at a time, but Futaba appears to have much loftier plans and ambitions. Last weekend they simultaneously introduced their new humanoid robot to both the Japanese and American press and public. The robot has some really neat features (see the video below) and seems well positioned to grab significant attention and market share.
Ignoring the International Date Line and time zone differences, Futaba demonstrated the robot at the 2006 All Japan PlaModel RadiCon Show (Plastic Model & Radio Control) and at the same time was showing it off at the iHobbyExpo 2006 show in Rosemont, Illinois - just outside of Chicago. In addition to our report and video from the Japan show below, Tom Atwood, the managing editor of ROBOT Magazine, was on hand in the US and has posted an excellent Futaba Robot report and photo essay you'll also want to check out.
Here in Japan, Futaba is providing the robot to HPI on an OEM basis where HPI will private label, distribute, and support the product as their "G-ROBOT" series. According to the Futaba staff at the show, HPI has an exclusive distribution agreement within Japan but outside of Japan, "there are many routes." We interpreted that to mean that Futaba intends to promote the robot pretty aggressively world wide.
The robot stands 25.5 cm tall (just over 10 inches) and only weighs 900 grams. Realizing that the torque and performance requirements for a humanoid robots legs are much more demanding than other parts of the body, the robot was designed with 11 high torque servos (RS301CR) and 9 lightweight servos (RS302CD) for the upper body.
The robot's power is supplied by a 7.4V, 780mAh lithium polymer battery. The RRC-T11 remote control (exclusive to Futaba) resembles a game controller and operates at 2.4 GHz. Up to 16 channel operation is supported, so customers could stage some awesome robot rumbles without worrying about channel conflicts.
The new Futaba robot sporting it's HPI colors.
The robot kit will ship with 15 canned motion sequences so that customers can fire up and demonstrate their new robot as soon as the assembly is finished. Or using the supplied motion editor customers can create their own original motion sequences. Although Futaba doesn't mention it in their product specifications, we're assuming that the snap together modular construction will help to minimize home position differences between robots which should allow customers to exchange and execute motions without having to make major adjustments.
Futaba was showing off the robot with red, blue, black and white upper body plastic.
The basic body construction is snap together plastic parts secured with screws. Futaba estimates that the average customer will be able to complete the kit and have their robot operational within two hours. The modular construction should simplify the kit assembly process quite a bit, though it may somewhat limit the customer's ability to modify or hack the robot.
One of the big surprises is the pricing. In Japan HPI has announced a 199,980 yen list price (about USD$1,700), which is pretty much in line with other similar robots with high degrees of freedom. However, according to the ROBOT Magazine report from the iHobbyExpo show, "... The robot has a projected street price in the U.S. of about $1,200.00." This may be the first time that a Japanese robot company has come to market with an overseas street price lower than in Japan. They are definitely determined to change the rules of the game.
Here's what the robot looks like in action: