The Tsukuba Real World Robot Challenge, organized by the Japan New Technology Foundation, was designed to be a practical demonstration and emulation of the challenges that will be faced by robots operating alongside humans in the future. The competition requires that the robots autonomously navigate a predetermined course and deal with obstacles, including pedestrians and cyclists, without doing any damage to humans, other robots, objects along the way, or themselves.
For the first few years since the competition originated, all of the entries have been wheeled, but RT Corporation, headquartered in Akihabara and known world-wide as a leader in biped robot design, development and deployment, decided it was time for a humanoid robot to take up the challenge and show everyone what could be accomplished. It wasn't a coincidence that RT's robot of choice has a Google Android operating system brain.
The 2011 Robot Challenge will be held in Tsukuba, Japan this coming November. Leading up to the 'main event' there are a series of monthly field trials. So far RT's robot has done quite well, though it's been a real learning experience.
The only significant problem they encountered during the field trials so far was slight over-heating of the motors driving the robot's joints. Their original goal for the first field trial was for the robot to walk at least 100 meters autonomously while using it's built-in GPS system for guidance. With the motor overheating they had to settle for an 80 meter journey.
Since then they have added cooling fans to the motors and have run their own field tests. This weekend, inspire of a major typhoon hitting Japan, they are out in the Tsukuba area participating in the second set of trials. The next steps include adding additional sensors so that the robot has more awareness of its surroundings, including moving obstacles like people.
One of the strict requirements set down by the competition organizers is the "Deadman Switch". For safety reasons, each robot has to be closely monitored by its designers. There has to be a Deadman Switch so that they can immediately shut down the robot in case there is any potential to create an accident.
With wheeled robot designs, the switch is fairly easy to implement. Builders typically shut off power to the motors and the robot stops. For a humanoid robot, especially one that stands roughly 1.3 meters tall, suddenly shutting off the power could be a disaster in itself, causing the robot to lose its balance in mid-stride, possibly crashing to the ground and potentially injuring people.
To avoid that possibility, RT designed their Deadman Switch implementation so that the robot shuts down in a clean fashion, maintaining it's balance, and moving to a stable pose.