Seems like the world is going to take a big leap again in terms of technological progress this year. From virtual reality headsets to power saving devices, we just love to make upgrades to everything we have right now. Some even held a space probe making competition for a race to the Moon. In the field of robotics, we are gearing “dangerously” close in creating units which learn and look just like humans.
This list features amazing robots which have come a step closer to our goal of creating units which do not only mimic humans but also pose great potential for practical uses in the future. Bio-inspired robotic locomotion is also heavily featured in this list. This young branch of robotics draws inspiration from biological systems of living things (e.g. human’s visual system) that results in lifelike functions.
NAO is Aldebaran’s first humanoid robot which debuted at the 2007 World RoboCup. Currently priced at $7,990 per unit, it has since sold in over 7,000 units all over the world. NAO has gone numerous updates with the NAO Nat Geo version and the 2014 NAO V5 Evolution as the latest. This interactive robot weighs 4.3 kilograms and is 58 centimeters high. Its power supply comes from a lithium battery capable of providing power amounting to 48.6 Wh. It translates to a maximum of 1 hour and 30 minutes of battery life.
NAO moves and walks similar to a human, turns its head around and picks objects, as it has 25 degrees of freedom. It also has an inertial unit which makes him able to maintain his balance. NAO’s anti-collision system also renders it to automatically lay down if it senses incoming objects which might collide with him. All these things are made possible thanks to its numerous sensors placed all over its body. Specifically, NAO has infrared emitters and receivers, eight pressure sensors, sonar rangefinders and nine tactile finders in addition to its inertial unit. NAO has also a facial and object recognition system that are made possible thanks to its two HD cameras that have a resolution of 1,200 by 720 for each. It can also interact with humans with its four directional microphones and loudspeakers which serve for voice recognition and sound localization and two speakers for text to speech conversion.
This open source robot has an Intel Atom @ 1.6 Ghz processor and runs on Linux based NAOqi 2.0 systen. Its OS is also compatible with Windows, Linux and Mac OS. In addition, NAO is able to connect to the internet using Wifi and Ethernet. In that way, it can be autonomous for 90 minutes after it is programmed. Alderaban did not disclose its actual intelligence but claims that it can now reproduce human behavior.
Currently, NAO’s most useful use is seen in the academic and scientific community with over 200 units dispersed in educational institutions all over the world. In the United Kingdom, several of its copies were used to teach children with autism, as these kids can relate more with him than an actual human teacher based on its expression. Other the other hand, some banks in Japan began to utilize it as a customer service assistant and France has used it as an autobiographical memory created to help the elders and the staff of International Space Station.
2. Honda ASIMO
It looks like Honda has come a long way when it comes to designing and developing Advanced Step in Innovative Mobility Robots (ASIMO) since the 1980s. This robot has a height of 130 centimeters, weighs around 50 kilograms and has a total of 57 degrees of freedom. It can also operate continuously for 1 hour due to its rechargeable 51.8 V Lithium Ion battery. ASIMO was formally introduced in 2000 as a multi-function mobile assistant which aims to help people to climb stairs, to navigate floors and sidewalks and to reach and pick things. The cost of a unit is said to be around $1 million dollars, with additional thousands of dollars more for maintenance. That paid off since ASIMO is currently considered as the world’s most advanced humanoid robot.
The arms and hands of ASIMO have 34 degrees of freedom. These also have opposable thumbs, allowing it to carry objects. It can carry a maximum of 1 kilogram when using both hands and 300 grams for each hand, if it carries objects separately. Meanwhile, its grasping force amounts to 500 grams per hand. It has kinesthetic force sensor in which it senses the direction and amount of force for each hand. ASIMO’s maximum range of movement is 105 degrees from the restricted operating freedom to its hips. It can run at a speed of maximum of 9 kilometers per hour (which is very high – when have you last used a treadmill at this speed?) and walk with an average of 2.7 kilometers per hour. ASIMO has a self-built software called Intelligent Real Time Flexible Walking which makes it possible to take tasks such as climbing the stairs or walking through the sidewalk. Its Posture Control Technology prevents it to trip while walking.
ASIMO has the ability to interact with humans. Through its camera ‘eyes’, it can detect faces, gestures, moving objects, postures, sounds and is also able to determine distance and direction. It recognizes movements via visual sensors to its head and kinesthetic sensors to its knees. Hence, it can make handshakes to people. Its facial recognition system can distinguish up to 10 different faces. It responds to human by nodding while being able to understand English and Japanese. On the other hand, it is controlled either by an operating control unit (PC), a wireless control unit or voice commands.
Microphones enable ASIMO to receive voice commands and determine the direction where the voice is coming from. It has also the ability to recognize sudden sounds such as falling objects and to look at the direction where they are coming from.
ASIMO has made numerous public appearances in front of international audience since its introduction. It has gone through many shows around the world showcasing its skills with its most recent appearance at the 2016 European Auto Expo held this February.
3. NASA’s Mars Curiosity Rover
This entry shifts away from humanoids to a unit which brought significant milestones in astronomy. Mars Curiosity Rover is a six-wheeled robot which has the size of a car. It was sent to Mars last November 26, 2011. It landed on August 6, 2012 with a mission to determine if the red planet supported microscopic life and to know if humans can survive there someday, if we choose to make a civilization there. While it is the most expensive in this list, with a whopping $ 2.5 billion dollars to manufacture, its achievements surpass its cost. It also created 4,000 jobs for those who manufactured it, for a decade.
The dimension of Curiosity is as follows: it is 3 meters long, 2.7 meters thick and 2.2 meters high. It has a weight of 899 kilograms. It is powered by radioisotope thermoelectric generator that produces electricity from the decay of plutonium-238 dioxide, as supplied by the US Department of Energy. The battery life of the rover is estimated to be at a minimum of 14 years based on its 4.8 kg (11 lbs.) of the mentioned radioactive compound. The rover has also a thermal system which heats itself due to the wild fluctuations in temperature on the Martian surface.
Curiosity’s size allows it to carry many scientific experiments, because it can pick, analyze and take pictures of an object within the reach of its 2-meter arm. The rover carries numerous instruments ranging from mast cam which produces real colors from photos taken in the red planet to dynamic albedo of neutrons that is used to detect hydrogen or ice near its surface. Its parts are also patterned to what a normal human needs to explore Mars albeit these are oddly located. It is also designed to roll over obstacles up to 65 centimeters high and run for 200 meters per day. The six wheels provide the rover mobility, and are able to turn 360 degrees due to the individual steering motors. Each wheel has a diameter of 50 centimeters.
It has already brought us valuable information, that ancient Mars could have really supported life. NASA has since shifted from its original mission and now is in the process of making models for organic and biomolecules compounds preservation. It was September 2013 when scientists received information the rover found materials which contain fundamental blocks in creating life. This conclusion came from drill samples which contain sulfur, nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and carbon. They were also able to find that the Martian environment’s radiation levels is manageable for a manned mission for Mars in the future.
Originally slated for a two-year mission, NASA extended its use on the planet indefinitely. The success of the Curiosity rover also made this agency to use some of technology employed in making its parts for the Mars 2020 mission.
Another entry from Japan crosses visual realism with Actroid. Modeled after an average Japanese woman, this android is eerily the most human like in this list. Androids were just things of science fiction until they were veiled back in 2003. When it was released to the market, an Actroid costed $225,000. Prospective buyers can also rent one for $3,500 for a span of five days.
Actroids can imitate human like expressions in a very natural way. They can also blink and respond to eye contact, hence – many people mistook them for real men/women. In a way, they are exhibited to imitate human gestures by tracking the movements of reflective dots worn by a person.
Communication with humans is also possible although only at the basic level. The robot records the human voice, then filters background noises, and inputs it to its speech recognition system. The audio is now converted to text, and it makes a response through its speakers. It can also respond non-verbally by changing facial expressions and nuances in their voices. The facial expressions as well as other stances are controlled by actuators powered by pneumatic pressure. Actroids are usually tele-operated, but more recent units are functioning autonomously while interacting with people. Their face alone has 47 points of articulation, which translates to 18 gestures to make sure that these really look like paying attention to a person.
Their skin is made of silicone and is intended to resemble to a human. However, the movement of these robots is only limited to their upper part. Actroids are presented either standing or sitting with firm support behind. This is the trade-off of having realistic look in exchange of locomotion functions as most of its hardware are located externally.
Recently, three Actroids are used as receptionists in a Hen-na Hotel in a theme park in Nagasaki. That hotel which was also featured our site is the world’s first autonomous accommodation business, which opened last 2015.
5. Boston Dynamics Robots
Created by a Google-subsidiary, Boston Dynamics builds advanced robots with remarkable behavior in terms of agility, dexterity, mobility and speed. They are using sensor-based controls to be able to create machines with complex capabilities. Many world renowned organizations ranging from the US Navy to Sony Electronics seek advice to this organization for the development of each institution’s robots. Their creations are funded by Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) of the United States of America. Boston Dynamics was also able to manufacture multitudes of products since 1992 and these are featured as a single entry to this list. So let’s start with one of their classics.
Used for simulation on how soldiers move with their protective clothing, PETMAN is an anthropomorphic robot that is capable of natural agile movement. It balances and moves itself freely unlike its previous counterparts that have limited motion and require support. It can walk, bend and do a variety of calisthenics while being tested for the effectiveness of its protective clothing. PETMAN has also sensors on its skin to detect any chemical leaking from its suit which indicates damage. Moreover, it can simulate the human physique to provide realistic conditions for testing by changing its temperature, humidity and even sweating.
Dubbed as the fastest legged robot on Earth, Cheetah runs at land speed over 45 kilometers per hour. That was done in a laboratory where it was powered by an off-board hydraulic pump while it ran on a high speed treadmill. To maintain it at the center of the treadmill, a boom like device was also attached to it. The Cheetah draws inspiration from real animals where it increases its stride and running speed through its articulated back which flexes back and forth.
A more refined and untethered version of Cheetah namely the Wildcat, was unveiled in the public last 2013 and was shown to run in an open area. The latest version of this four legged robot is now able to jump over obstacles up to 18 inches high in 2015.
Sand Flea is a robot created with an outstanding ability to jump 8 meters over difficult terrain. This 5 kilogram machine operates like a remote controlled car on a mild terrain. Its jumping range is equivalent to the height of a two story house. Sand Flea has gyro stabilization so it can stay firm during its flight. An on-board stability system controls the altitude of this robot’s flight and landing. It ran run for two hours or do 25 hops before it needs to be recharged.
Thanks to its gyro stabilizer, Sand Flea is able to stay composed in midair and when it lands. This also enables its cameras to have a clear view of its environment while flying. These cameras can take high resolution images when still and normal photos when it is running.
6. Bionic Kangaroos
The last amazing robot in this list is a bionic kangaroo from a well-known German company named Festo. This robot weighs 7 kilograms and is a meter high. It can also jump 40 centimeters vertically and 80 centimeters horizontally. Unveiled last 2014, it successfully imitated the look and the jumping behavior of kangaroos. Normally, kangaroos will get very tired from numerous jumping, but their ability to utilize their tendons like elastic springs enabled scientists to come up with this design.
A bionic kangaroo’s equivalent to this feature is an actual elastic tendon spring which helps the legs to charge for jumping. Its tendons are pneumatically pre-tensioned before its take off. The jump is carried off after the determined angle is reached and the pneumatic cylinders are activated.
The energy spent for making the succeeding jumps is reduced – this robot able to exercise bio-mimicry. When it lands, the tension in the tendons is raised again and the kinetic energy is reconverted into potential energy. This also marks as a crucial phase in kangaroo’s jumping ability as it recovers the energy needed for the next jump. It can be controlled by a sophisticated armband which can communicate via gestures, over a distance of 50 meters.
The Festo bionic kangaroo is a concept project and it is not intended for mass production. They are more keen on exploring ways on recuperating energy in industrial automation and with the combination of electronics and pneumatics.
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