“These are the droids you're looking for!”
A major semiconductor company, whose name begins with a capital “I”, is fond of saying that their products are "Inside ". From what we've seen today here in Tokyo, Google, and the Google developer community, is set to totally blow that away, and create a brave new environment with “Android Everywhere”, not just cell phones, PDAs, and tablet computers but, get this -- actual, life-size, walking humanoid robots. If, Obi-Wan Kenobi were here today, he would have to admit, “These are the droids you're looking for!”
Two leading edge Japanese companies, RT Corporation and Brilliant Service, teamed up to create what we believe to be the world's first life-size humanoid robot operating completely with the Android operating system. The robot, named "RIC Android", was unveiled today, September 28. at the Google Developer Day 2010 in Tokyo.
RT Corp, well known in Japan for custom robot development, took charge of the overall robot design, mechanics, costume, system integration, testing, and operation. Brilliant Service, one of the leading Android software developers in Japan, developed the robot controller software and associated applications necessary to remotely operate the robot.
Here are some clips taken during one of the early build sessions:
It's a real tribute to the skills of both companies, their ability to work smoothly together, and the openness and flexibility of the Android operating system, that the full implementation of this robot from initial concept, through prototyping, testing, and fully functional deployment, to approximately 60 days start to finish.
The original concept sketch – July 27, 2010
The robots onboard brain is an Armadillo 500FX running the Android operating system. It communicates via WiFi to an Android cell phone or PDA allowing the operator to control its movements remotely. Of course, the operator could be across the room or across the world.
RIC Android's onboard brain
Integrating the Armadillo controller, Android cell phone, applications, and the operating system. September 25, 2010.
Android squared, or even cubed!
The open source nature of the Android operating system implemented in hardware that has the ability to walk around, for all intents and purposes like a human being. has tremendous appeal and will no doubt inspire many new creative applications within the Google developer community.
In addition to being able to walk, the robot can swing its arms, rotate it said left and right, and, in today's demonstration, opened the top of its head to reveal its onboard controller running Android.
Building robots can be just as dangerous as training crocodiles, especially when they open their mouths wide…
Some skeptics might look at the robot implementation as just a bit of a technology magic show and question whether really has any practical application. But, RT has a long-term vision for this type of robotics implemented with the Android operating system.
For example, they envision remote applications where the robot may be at a location, say in a school, and the data is transmitted up to the cloud and then accessed remotely by a teacher, instructor or researcher.
Another possible application they've considered is life blogging, where the robot participates as a family member recording memories either through taking photos, videos, recording audio tracks, etc. Then it could play them back on command allowing the family to revisit, and enjoy the wonderful experiences that they shared together.
Of course, there are also the entertainment aspects of this type of robotics. The RIC robot design, with a standard robot controller, has been successfully used in several different trade show and retail store promotion situations. RT provides the RIC robot on a short-term rental or lease basis and also supplies any necessary custom programming, character suits, and operators to stores or other organizations that want to attract attention to their products and services.
Just like their human counterparts, humanoid robots put their pants on one leg at a time…
The robot, including its Android suit, tips the scales at 14 kg. It's 120 cm tall, but expands to 130 cm when it's head opens to show the onboard controller. The current configuration has 15 degrees of freedom, with five in the upper body, and 10 devoted to the lower body and its walking capability. Needless to say, it can easily support additional peripherals including lights, sounds, music, sensors, actuators, etc.
RIC Android features a unique leg and hip design, then makes it safe and stable even when walking across uneven services.
Yuki Nakagawa, founder of RT Corp, explaining the RIC Android design (July 27, 2010)
RT Corp is one of the most popular robot shops in Akihabara. It was founded in 2005 by Yuki Nakagawa. The shop itself, is a little bit off the beaten track. Yet, people search it out because it is one of the few shops that not only sells robot equipment, but also services supports and even develops unique robot kits. They also sponsor a number of robot clubs and contests. There is a group of dedicated and enthusiastic robot builders specializing in under 1 kg humanoid robots that meets regularly at the RT facility.
If you walk into the RT facility, you might think that it's just selling robot kits and components. But, behind the scenes, they're actually doing consulting for schools development R&D for major universities there representing both the Japanese and foreign robot companies and have developed a number of unique products by themselves.
RT Corp's Neko Tencho, the cat store manager.
Their major products include humanoid robots like the RIC robot platform that was used as the basis for the RIC Android robot introduced today; the Gainer robot development system and its associated modules; a half size micromouse robot that is so tiny it has to be seen to believe to be believed; and quite a few other robot products that can't be disclosed because they are embedded into university and industry robot products.
One key theme running throughout all of Nakagawa's robot development projects, has been a focus on human compatibility. By that I mean that the robot should be safe, friendly, and able to operate in a domestic environment among people. For many years, RT was the major sponsor and driving force behind the ROBO-LDK competition held annually in Kawasaki. That competition inspired numerous young robot builders, like Yuta Sugiura, to come up with new robots and new applications for robotics technology for use in the home. Many several of those builders have gone on to work in Japan's major research facilities and are doing creative work that is laying the foundation for future domestic hospital and senior care applications in robotics.