Two of the most interesting, and most affordable, humanoid robots that have come on the scene recently are the Darwin MINI (Robotis) and RAPIRO. Both of the new robots have strong/cute personalities and are open-source designs encouraging users to engage, experiment, and learn by doing. They’re extremely user friendly.
Yoshihiro Shibata, a top Japanese humanoid robot designer currently working with Sugiura Machine Design Office, was kind enough to share these side-by-side photos comparing Darwin Mini and Rapiro-
Technically, logically, and emotionally I have always found Professor Sankai's arguments to be right on target. His vision of a future where human capability is augmented and extended through pragmatic application of robotic technology has tremendous appeal. And his view on how this could (should) be naturally developed in Japan, leveraged by obvious needs in health care and nursing, along with other areas where Japan excels, seems perfectly reasonable. Especially since it allows Japanese robot developers to approach the challenge from a position of strength and know-how.
"In America, a lot of high-tech research originates from the defense and aerospace industries. But in Japan, we'd like to make high-tech advances in the health and welfare field, which is very difficult because technology has to be applied to individuals. And in this way, we think technology from industry could be used to enhance everyday life. We feel this might be one way for Japan to show the world some unique achievements."
However, the one thing that I can't figure out is how it will actually come to fruition. Cyberdyne's technology is certainly world-class, but I have to wonder about the company's business model and long term strategy. Investors and backers have obviously pumped millions of dollars into the project, year after year. Yet no one even begins to hint that it is profitable, even on a run rate basis.
How deep is the rabbit hole? How much longer will the company's backers continue to support the cash flow required to keep it alive and striving to catch the attention of the world? The jury is still out. Given the state of the Japanese economy over the past few years, Cyberdyne's backers run some risk of not being able to fund the company, even if they want to, since things are getting tighter and tighter here.
The other, possibly significant, risk is a competitive challenger suddenly appearing on the scene - perhaps from Korea or China. While Cyberdyne's robot suits are extremely impressive, even if they don't come in my size, very little of the technology is unique and un-reproduceable. Assuming that a viable market for the robot suits actually exists, which still needs to be proven, Cyberdyne doesn't appear to have created a strong barrier to entry against competitors.