Chrome Kid: Little Humanoid Helper With A Big Heart (Video)

When we think about humanoid robots evolving to the point that they can be useful and practical assistants in the home, clinic, or senior center, large, usually heavily funded robots developed by major institutions immediately come to mind. At the same time a lot of useful work to advance the state of the art, and to inspire public imagination and acceptance, is being done at the hobby level.

While individually funded robot projects like Doka Harumi may lack the resources of a university laboratory, their builders are able to emulate a significant percentage of the functionality at just a mere fraction of the cost.

A great example is Chrome Kid, a child-sized humanoid robot developed by KupaKuma. Of course, "Chrome Kid" is a generic name used for a group of their robots sharing the same spirit and character that compete regularly in events as diverse as the major ROBO-ONE competitions, KondoCup Robot Soccer, Wonderful Robot Carnival, and many others.

For the 3rd ROBO-ONE Humanoid Helper Project event held at the end of December, 2010, Chrome Kid was reincarnated roughly the same height as a very young elementary school boy, not quite capable of dealing with challenges like full sized refrigerator doors. Instead, Chrome Kid greeted party guests, asked them to take a seat, then retrieved hot towels from an electric heating cabinet in the kitchen and politely offered them to the guests. He also planned to serve them cake, but unfortunately the clock ran out before he could complete his tasks.

You may notice a slight "growth" on Chrome Kid's shoulder - a video camera used by the operator located in another room completely out of sight to guide the robot.

In addition to the project challenges, entrants also have to face a very knowledgeable cross-examination by the judges. While the judges are always supportive, sometimes their questions can be rather pointed, but everyone takes it as constructive criticism.

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The Best Laid Plans Of Robots and Men (Video)

Things usually work great in the lab or at home, but bringing them out into the real world, especially at competitions or events where there is fairly intense pressure is a completely different story.

Taylor Veltrop came up with the first effective implementation using the Kinect system with ROS (Willow Garage Robot Operating System) to control a humanoid robot in a master/slave configuration. And, he had the guts to actually take it into battle against some of the top Japanese ROBO-ONE robot builders at the recent Robot Japan competition. Long time followers of this blog will immediately recognize Dr. GIY in the video setting up Yokozuna Great for competition right next to Taylor.

Although the system worked perfectly at home, he quickly ran into a few “gottcha” problems. For example, the bandwidth/response from the WiFi network he used at the venue introduced considerable response time lag. It was functional, but no where near as snappy. Then it turned out that the “wall” behind him during the robot battles was actually a curtain. It worked ok until the slightest breeze made the curtain move, totally confusing the Kinect sensors.

Thankfully Taylor was able to overcome these unexpected challenges and still compete. He even staged a brief demonstration of his Kinect/ROS system after the event.

One thing that was a bit surprising was the lack of ROS awareness among the builders here. Most of them had never heard of it and were quite surprised at how flexible, powerful, and easy to implement ROS is. I think with the right PR and promotion ROS could quickly gain a lot of general acceptance and utilization among Japanese robot engineers and designers.

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3rd ROBO-ONE Humanoid Helper Project: More than just bipedal robots (Video)

Although the large, almost life-sized, humanoid robots like Doka Harumi tend to capture most of the public attention, the ROBO-ONE organization hasn't limited it's initiatives to only bipedal designs. Many of the events and special projects include multi-legged or wheeled robots. For example, the main event on the agenda for the first day of the ROBO-ONE Humanoid Helper Robot Project competition last month was dedicated to "Table Top" robots. The goal was to demonstrate how robotics could be utilized in a domestic, senior care, or hospital setting to provide help and assistance. The rules were fairly open and accommodating, allowing robot designers to enter a wide range of different configurations. A good example is Dynamizer TT, operated by Tomio Sugiura famous for creating the ROBO-ONE champion humanoid Dynamizer:

Purists might argue that it doesn't duplicate the functionality of a human doing the same tasks, but that is exactly the point. A washing machine doesn't clean clothes the same way that our great-grandmothers did by hand. A Roomba doesn't push around a heavy vacuum cleaner. And, a car isn't a carriage without a horse. Our robotic future is much more likely to be populated by numerous small, affordable, dedicated purpose robot assistants than humanoid shaped Mini-Me's. Of course it will be great to have humanoid companions, teachers, and friends, but they are likely to be in the minority, perhaps limited to only the very rich, or the extremely needy.

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1st Kondo Land Robot Competition: Course Difficulty (Video)

I realized last night while talking with some fellow robot builders that the Kondo Land Robot Competition videos so far make the obstacle course look much easier than it actually was. The hazards the robots have to conquer are far from trivial, and the fact that several of them almost made it all the way to the end is a real tribute to the design, implementation, strategy, and piloting ability of their robot designers.

Here's a look at some of the course difficulty:

You need to keep in mind that unlike ROBO-ONE, Robot Sumo, or Micromouse, the Kondo Land competitors didn't have the benefit of past experience, and none of them that we are aware of had the luxury of designing their robot from the ground up specifically for this particular course. Many of the robots were just a little too big for some of the hazards, or their feet couldn't get sufficient traction.

Of course that will change quickly. Now that they have seen and experienced the course first hand, and watched how others fared, they will be back with a vengence. At the 2nd Kondo Land Robot Competition scheduled for late January, we expect to see several new designs fined tuned to successfully navigate this unique robot challenge. Who knows, we might even see a ROBO-ONE style humanoid or two attempt it… That would be very cool.

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Kondo Land Robot Steeplechase Debuts (Video)

We weren't exactly sure how a robot steeplechase or obstacle course done purely for the fun of it would turn out, but yesterday's Kondo Land competition was a total blast. There were 10 entries, not bad for the first time the event was staged, and they all did quite well at navigating the hazards, even though none of them managed to completely finish the total course within the short three minute time limit.

Here's “Isoko Rescue” turning in the best performance of the day:

The course included some really tough hazards including the initial tilting platform; a Magic Wall with moving blocks; the Motor House where the operator couldn't see the robot directly; a Wobbly Bridge that immediately tilted when a robot made any unbalanced move at all; steeply sloped ramps; and the Reverse Street treadmill that managed to defeat even the best contestants.

Kondo plans to make this competition a regular addition to the line-up of robot competitions sponsored by the company. The next Kondo Land is planned for sometime in March with the exact date to be announced later.

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23rd KondoCup Robot Soccer Competition (Video)

It's hard to believe that time has zipped by so fast. This weekend the 23rd  KondoCup Robot Soccer competition was held at RoboSpot in Akihabara. The competition is divided into two classifications, KHR Class and OPEN Class.

The KHR Class is restricted to robots based on standard Kondo platforms like the KHR-2HV or KHR-3HV. Players make some modifications, like adding their own body shells, but the robots have to be stock configurations as far as the frames, servos, and controllers. The KHR Class playoffs took place on Saturday:

The OPEN Class is much freer, as you can see from the view below. Players still have to use Kondo components, typically servos and controllers. But they have a free hand with the overall design, number of degrees of freedom, body frames, etc. The result is typically a much more dynamic and exciting game. The OPEN Class matches were staged on Sunday:

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Taylor's Humanoid Robot Gets A Grip (Video)

Robot grippers

Taylor Veltrop has been doing some surprisingly advanced work in humanoid robotics, including integrating vision systems and artificial intelligence (more on that later). Although his robot can currently sense the world around it, see objects in 3D, and move around on its own, it lacked one critical capability that kept it from interacting with the world. It didn't have any hands.

So, we decided to help him fix that. Searching through the Robots Dreams Lab, we came up with a spare set of custom grippers designed by Matt Bauer, the creator of Rook's Pawn, a RoboGames humanoid robot champion. Matt used to sell the grippers for use with the Robonova-1 robots, but he did make a few larger sets for the Kondo based MANOI AT-01 humanoids. His robot business is currently dormant, but he can be reached here.

Taylor was quickly able to adapt the grippers to his robot, and we're looking forward to seeing it in action during one of the competitions here soon. To give him a little inspiration, here's a glimpse at what Matt's original Robonova-1 robot was able to accomplish with a set of the grippers:

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