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Toys

New Walking Robot From Honda 120

Jimbob2001 writes: "Forget the Sony AIBO: this new Walking Honda should be the new must have plaything (sorry, not available for sale!). Here's the slick PR Web site (with movies etc.), and here's the developers' site with a little more detail. (Note the P3 is the latest version of this long-standing development project.)"
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New Walking Robot From Honda

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  • As a result of the examination, we opted for integrating coxae, knee joints and articulations pedis with our humanoid robot.

    These are big words and all, but I think they striped down, oiled up and got freaky with the robot. I could use a little "articulations pedis" myself if you know what I mean.

    --Shoeboy
  • That should have read Programmed to battle andover.net while servicing Natalie Portman
    --Shoeboy
  • I agree. I saw the "developers site" last spring, and it wasn't new then. The PR-site, and their renewed interest in Machine Vision are new though. I got a mail the other week suggesting that they were looking for more Computer Vision competence. A pity my PhD is still some years off, it sounds like a really cool project to work in!

  • and what reason, pray tell, is there for aligning the eyes horozontaly? as opposed to say, 3 'eyes' in a triangle?

    Amber Yuan 2k A.D
  • by Anonymous Coward

    For home use, your robot should be armed with nothing more powerful than a .38 calibre side arm (rifles permitted up to .762 but limited to clips of ten rounds or less).

    Depends on regulations in your country. We have 75 kiloton nukes in our garage. Not as big as armed forces stuff, but they get the job done.

  • Funny. I see this damned robot walk up stairs almost everyday on TV. Honda has been running a commercial for the P3 here in Tokyo for at least a year now. He's walking up a flight of subway stairs with a bunch of kids following and imitating him/her/it.

    Interesting.... I wonder if they just preprogrammed the stair's height for the commercial.

    Whatever the case, the thing is just cool. I've even got a model of the prior version on my desk at work. That guy/girl/thing is sort of popular here. It's geek-chic I guess.


    Word!

    --
    Kir
  • This sounds like a good excuse for the network of smallish tesla coils I've been meaning to imbed in my ceiling. Honda has a customer in me.

    :)Fudboy
  • The BBC recently carried this story [bbc.co.uk] about polymer muscles for microbots. (Not useful on the macro scale, but still interesting.)

  • Tendon-driven robots are already well researched in acedamia.

    They use servo-driven spools to pull wires, not plastic muscles, but it doesn't really matter. The important thing in movement is the connection point of the tendons, and their relationship with the joints.

    Plastic mussels may allow the mechanism to get smaller, but it would be a small, evolutionary step. Nothing is stopping an ambitious hobbyist from building a tendon driven hand right now.
  • So Honda's got a walking robot (Honda Germany, I'll note)

    Where did you get that from? The German site is just promo. From what I've heard the original development was done in Japan.

  • by Greg_Girty ( 90984 ) on Sunday July 02, 2000 @02:55AM (#963158)
    It is a grand public relations stunt. You are correct that this robot is useless to a consumer, but stunts like this are what fund real robotics.

    Some of the technology in this robot:

    -binocular vision

    -miniturized servo joints

    -miniturized controller. (Contollers as large as refrigerators are still used in industry.)

    -ballence system adjusting to payload

    These technologies are not revolutionary, but important evolutions for industrial robots.

    Tell your investors the phrase, "evolutionary reducion in controller size". Boring. Tell them, "walking robot" instead. That's news!

    Remember, many manufacturers also sell industrial robots. (Kawasaki and mitsubishi are other examples.) We can say, "anthropomorphic robots are useless," but Honda is going to take the technology they developed for it and apply it immeadiately to industrial robots.
  • Stay a while... stay FOREVER!
  • That Honda robot is a few years old, but it's still a great piece of work.

    Honda has the advantage of being an industrial company with a good mechanical engineering R&D operation. To build something like that, you need more technicians and machinists than researchers. Most robotics labs in the US are in computer science departments, and with the exception of the Field Robotics Center at CMU [cmu.edu], aren't organized to build good machinery on a reasonable schedule. DoD isn't throwing money at this problem any more; they did in the 1970s and 1980s, and didn't see much for their money.

    The hardware component state of the art is actually pretty good, which wasn't true a decade ago. Early robotics researchers wasted too much time on building radio links, motor controllers, encoders, and similar parts. Now you can buy all that stuff. Getting enough compute power onboard is now the easy part. Rate gyros and accelerometers are now stock, low-cost items. CCD TV cameras are easily available. Laser rangefinders are still big, clunky, and overpriced, but depth from stereo vision [ptgrey.com], after thirty years of work, now works well in real time.

    Controlling a legged robot is a tough problem, but there's been a fair amount of work on balance. I have a patent [animats.com] in that area myself. Most of the work on legged locomotion is now going into animation and games, but the results will be useful in the real world.

    Nobody makes money from mobile robots, though. A few companies have tried, notably Denning Robotics and HelpMate, but not with success. The basic problem is that robots compete with cheap people, and aren't much faster.

  • Mmmpf, seems like the old sayings:
    1) Size matters, and
    2) Bigger is better.

    American cars, or cars made especially for the american market are big. European and Japanese cars tend to be much smaller. The source of this lies in the lay-out of the country and the cities. Most European and Japanese cities came into being long before the invention of the car, or even the horse / carriage combination[1]. American cities, except a few on the south / east coast are constructed arround the car. Mainstreets are wide, parking space is readily available[2] and cars are the preferred way of transport.
    Driving through downtown LA is quite a different experience then driving throught the centre of London, Paris, Rome or some other European city. I guess the same holds for Japanese cities.
    To illustrate this point:
    The smallest car to rent at Hertz at LAX is considered a moderatly big car in Europe (Mazda 626 IIRC).
    So, American cars are great for American circumstances, European cars are great for all other circumstances.

    [1] I know this isn't exactly true, but you'll get the drift.
    [2] Not true for New York

    ---
  • Nitinol is made from Nickel and Titanium, and changes its shape based on applied current (well, "Ohmic Heating", actually). A search on Google turned up such cute examples as this [imagesco.com].

    It doesn't seem strong enough for large-scale use, but it does show proof-of-concept nicely.

  • Yes, according to the Japanese site [honda.co.jp] which contains more info and less fluff the P3 was completed in September 1997. It just seems to be going to Germany for a short holiday in the near future.
  • Remember sometime ago we had a story [slashdot.org] about evolution algorithms making robots....I wonder what king of sweet thing we'll get by putting this baby into the "gene pool"...
  • And their webpage [honda.co.jp] has more information and less fluff. The P3 is just having a holiday an Germany at the moment and stopping in at a trade show while it's there. It's about time they started on the P4 I reckon, I wanna see the thing _run_. Or perhaps hop. Yeah, hopping would probably look funnier......
  • by pf kro ( 86937 )
    I'm 16 and I've played Impossible Mission on my Commodore 64.
    So it's not how old you are, but what kind of junk you have around the house. (I don't really mean junk.)
  • Do the guys at Realdoll [realdoll.com] know about this?? ;-)
  • And ofcourse the OS would have to be open-source, Robotix, or just Linux for Robots...

    That would be Robotux maybe?
  • to that, you might want to consider some cultural background of Japan and the company Honda.

    Most Japanese boys of my age (born around '60s and '70s) grew up watching robot animes and other robot shows. The tradition of those shows begin perhaps with ``Astroboy (Tetsuwan Atom),'' and other influential shows include ``Tetsujin 28-gou,'' ``Giant Robo (whose American version is titled `Johnny Sacco and His Giant Robot' or something)'' and ``Majingaa Z'' and ``Gundom'' series.

    We all dreamed that in some day anthropomorphic robots are in common place and help humanity (but more like weapons to fight the evil). And I am assuming that the engineers who developed P3 are from that age group. For the Japanese, robots have to be anthropomorphic.

    In addition to that Japanese males' preoccupation to to anthropomorphic robots, there is a culture of the company Honda.

    Honda is known for its investing useless or not immediately salable technologies.

    Beginning 1950s, I believe, Honda began participating in motorcycle Grand Prix racing. At that time, noone knew a small motorcycle company from Asia. Its country had lost big time to the allies just 10 years or so. The attempt was completely rediculous in terms of corporate investment. No return is guaranteed and it was quite likely that the motorcycles would end up running the very last after European motorcycles.

    The common wisdom among Japanese public is that the idea of participating the Grand Prix racing was from the company's founder, Souichiro Honda.

    The term ``running lab'' was applied to the motorcycles to justify the effort. The rationale was that racing requires rapid development of technologies, so it's worthwhile to invest to. But I personally think that Souichiro just liked racing.

    After beginning to win in the motorcylce racing with small replacement bikes (such as 50cc class, 125cc class), they even began participating in the Formula 1 car racing in the '60s. I think the car won a race or two. You have to remember that at that time, still, not only Honda, but also any Japanese car manufacturers were not known as major car manufacturers. I believe that the name Honda became household name in America after the '70s Civic. Imagine how riduculous it looked that an obscure Asian car manufacturer participating in Formula one Grand Prix against manufactuerers such as Ferarri, Lotus (and Mercedes?).

    So, there are backgrounds for Honda for investing such a useless technologies as anthropormorphic robots.

    I remember seeing a news show that first reported the existence of walking robot, presumably P1, at a Honda lab in 1993 or 1994. I knew that the biggist hurdle of anthropormorphic robots was to have them walk like a human. So, it was a big news.

    And in the news show, the engineers talked something like I said in the above.

    BTW, I am not a big fan of Honda. I did not like their motorcycles when I was racing. I liked and still like Kawasaki green :-)
  • I'd seen this TLC program about it a very long time ago.. http://www.robotbooks.com/movies.htm

    3-4 years ago, when I first found the P3, I was amazed, but since then, I'm sure they've done more impressive work. The P5 looks much like the P3, but is more slimmed down and looks like something from Macros robotech than real technology. Also, I hear that the new AI brain for this guy is so advanced you can ask it to go retreive a drill from a lab on another floor then take the elevator to floor six, go to room 6a and drill a hole where the target is on the south wall. What's all this about P3??

    Still wicked cool though.
  • Not only is it good for all that, but I'm one step closer to getting my Gundam :-)
  • Oh gosh, this was too funny to pass up: http://www.honda.co.jp/english/technology/robot/mo v1.html A friend of mine, who is a robotics expert, just informed me that there is a Japanese, government controlled robotics program with one objective, to lead the world in robotics technology. I suppose it would make sense that Japan would spear head something like this as they've been conceptualizing these bots for years through animae and comics. Apparently, this program is a cooperative effort between multiple japanese corporations. fyi
  • % xanim p3_2_uk.mov
    XAnim Rev 2.80.0 by Mark Podlipec Copyright (C) 1991-1999. All Rights Reserved
    Video Codec: Sorenson Video not yet supported.(E18)
    Video Codec: Sorenson Video not yet supported.(E18)
    Notice: Video and Audio are present, but not yet supported.

    Too bad for me. Another website decides that
    using a video format whose creator decides should
    only viewable by two OSes is a Good Idea.

    Thanks a whole freakin' lot Apple and Honda.
  • To think about it, the robot imitates what humans do well - it can walk, but it is not necessary that robot has to imitate everything that humans do and rely on simple video image to imitate vision. Robot can be smarter than humans, it can use resources unavailable to humans that are way more precise: lasers, sonic, microwaves, metal detectors, night vision etc. A robot that uses more than one input device to figure out the surroundings exactly can be so much more useful than a fully blown AI system that completely "IMMITATES" what humans do - rely on texture processing to figure out surface shape and depth. A robot that relies on textures can not be as efficient as the robot that actually "KNOWS" the shapes and depths and even compositions and various physical measurements such as strength of materials. Sending the latter robot to Mars will be more productive than sending the former human immitator.
  • by Schnake ( 99890 ) on Saturday July 01, 2000 @09:46PM (#963176) Homepage
    I believe we need significant advances in the Material Sciences to invent/formulate/discover a muscle-like substance (which contracts when current is applied), which can be shaped into muscle like strands, and then sold at your local RadioShack.

    I see 3M as a potential contender, but I have no idea how far any research has progressed into this field.

    Once somebody makes such a material, it would only be a matter of time before hobby robotics really take off!

    I can see it now, people going out there to buy metal rods, that are held together in a ball-socket joint configuration, and then the muscle strands attached to both pieces of metal, and then wired to the microcontroller. And ofcourse the OS would have to be open-source, Robotix, or just Linux for Robots... Ofcourse Microsoft may still be around, and release Windows RE.

  • this new Walking Honda should be the new must have plaything (sorry, not available for sale!).

    How does something that is more than three years old get classified as "new?"

    I can understand if there had been some recent development in this thing, but I don't see anything there that I don't remember from before. This may have been a great link to have as a quickie, as something cool to look at, but it is definitely not "new" nor exciting.

  • how about muscle wires? [robotstore.com] they contract when you put a current through them.
  • I think that 'evolving' methodologies, and neural nets etc provide our best chance with this technology. It would be a good idea for the honda team to try a similar approach as Elvis on the control side. Perhaps add padding so it doesn't damage itself when learning to walk.

    I agree that evolving, and learning are more promising. I would even say that this is the way we have to go. If we want to develop systems that interact with a complex environment (such as reality) there is simply no way to program for all the situations that can occur.

    My objection was merely a semantic one. I would rather divide "improvement through experience" into selection type (genetic programming etc.) and adaption type (neural nets etc.).

  • Hm. Lessee... I've been submitting this story for how many years now? 3? AND it looks to have run before? What's the diff? Near as I can tell, it's in english this time. Big whoop. If ya want MORE info, go see the original source: http://www.honda.co.jp/robot/ [honda.co.jp]or do a quick search on Yahoo for Honda Humanoid. Didn't get anything new out of this. -- Xiphos - yeah, bite me.
    --
  • by Effugas ( 2378 ) on Saturday July 01, 2000 @09:54PM (#963181) Homepage
    You ask why it's not easy to find stairs.

    Among other things, consider the problem with disparity: Looking down gives you horizontal disparity, i.e. the image from one eye is shifted slightly from the image of the other.

    Problem is, stairs are horizontally aligned, so there's no "bright line edges" to detect distance from.

    Instead, you have to do what the brain does, and search for texture disparity. Good luck; we don't even have compression algorithms that approximate high frequency textures(Perlin Noise isn't hugely flexible nor reversible from real life textures, though I'd wager it could be). To do good binocular disparity on a texture, we need the ability to say, "If the texture was 5 feet away, the two surfaces would differ by x. If the texture was 10 feet away, the two surfaces would differ by y. Now, lets compare these two intrinisically noisy images across multiple texture sizes and detect where in between 5 and 10 feet we are."

    Actually, that shouldn't be impossibly different, but it's a hell of alot harder than poking around for a ping pong ball.

    Yours Truly,

    Dan Kaminsky
    DoxPara Research
    http://www.doxpara.com
  • by CMU_Nort ( 73700 )
    Now all we need is for it to take voice commands.

    "Destroy him, my robots!"

  • How long before we see robots driving taxis a la Total Recall?

    Or taxis running over robots? Has that been done already?

  • Genetic programming is much more promising than programmed control, but I wouldn't call it learning. It's a means of finding an algorithm that works without writing it yourself.

    If genetic programming was learning, you should also be able to say things like "Mankind has learned to have two arms and two legs.", and to me that sounds wrong... more correct to say that Elvis has evolved to walk.

  • Why is this modded down? Seems reasonable to me.
  • till i have a child and we get to watch it evolve to walk.

    maybe we'll catch it on tape. i think it's called learning because others already knew how to do it and it picked it up. Evolving is more of a genetic process, certainly a much more epic process.


    FluX
    After 16 years, MTV has finally completed its deevolution into the shiny things network
  • I'd put money on that being CDE on a Solaris box. So there we go.
  • I normally don't like the "this is 10 day's old" rants, but this is ...over a half-year old. Better late then never I guess, but...

    And no, this isn't worthy of moderating up. =)

    My .02
    Quux26

  • The ultimate goal is to produce humanoid service robots for personal use. If humans had three eyes in a triangular arrangement, so would the P3.
  • Oh great, a fully mobile humanoid robot. Now they just need to stick Windows on there and let it go around killing people and terrorizing the city.
  • Besides, there is even a solution to the problem that doesn't involve an extra camera. You could simply look at the frames from a few seconds ago, and compute the disparity using them. The old frames will be displaced along the other dimension if the robot has moved forward.

    I wonder what a person would do faced with a perfectly horizontally symmetrical scene...move their head and eyes around in an attempt to establish binocular disparity?

    --Dan
  • if you still can find it [imdb.com], a classic!


    /_____\
    vvvvvvv../|__/|
    ...I../O,O....|
    ...I./. .......|
    ..J|/^.^.^ \..|.._//|
    ...|^.^.^.^.|W|./oo.|
  • I dunno. I think it would be a great way of getting rid of those annoying door to door salesmen
  • I also thought this news story was about a Honda robot I had first seen over a year ago. After seeing a BBC news story today I see the P3 is a new improved version from Honda.

    Terry
  • by esobofh ( 138133 ) <khg.telus@net> on Sunday July 02, 2000 @04:50AM (#963195)
    Finally I have someone that can walk my Aibo in my absence! :)

    ----------------------------
  • Don't forget the drawn out ahhhhhHhHHHHHHhhhhhhhhhHHHHHHHHHhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh hhhhhhhhhhHHHHHHHHHHhhhhhhhh when you fell off the ledge...
  • They can really start doing something, I'm very happy with what they can do now, walk, jump, push a cart, etc.. My 4 year old baby girl can do all that, Heh. So when can it get a job? ;)
  • Lots of people said the same thing about going to space and the moon. But look at all of the spinoffs that came from NASA's efforts, like teflon and stronger ceramics and plastics, etc... The developments along the way are just as important as the finished project.
  • I've read all of the posts (3s or higher), and I admit that I don't understand most of them. However, instead of using complicated software to dicipher distance based on binocular vision, why not just actively blast away with a laser range finder? I've got one of those bad boys tied to my golf bag so they can't be too expensive. Every half second or so measure the distance to what the beast is looking at. Viola. Is that considered cheating or something?

    Matthew
  • solar in addition to a battery?

    segfault@bellatlantic.net [mailto]
  • by austad ( 22163 ) on Sunday July 02, 2000 @09:20AM (#963201) Homepage
    >P3's carbon rucksack also holds the battery.

    I coulda swore the first time I glanced at it, it said "carbon nutsack"
  • ...to invent/formulate/discover a muscle-like substance (which contracts when current is applied)

    Nitinol.

    My .02
    Quux26

  • I saw some interesting posts about the end of humanity, and Terminator and all that stuff.

    Some friends and I went shooting yesterday, and some of the things we shot at were old hard drives, old old PC's, etc etc. We even placed some 1/2 inch steel plates in front of said targets to see which calibers would penetrate etc. Unfortunately, I forgot my camera so I have no pics, but just because something is made out of metal does not means its bullet proof.

    As long as we keep the guns, I dont care how smart, or able, or capable robots become. If we give them guns, and control over the military we are in deep doo-doo.

    My advice, is to keep the weapons away from them, and keep your own. (Preferably a decent sized caliber rifle, or a monster handgun like a casull 454)

    My real concern however is what will happen to humanity if robot capabilities progress to the point of doing everything. Humans will atrophy in all ways if we dont have to do anything anymore. Fading out to me is much more scary then getting stamped out.

    P.S. If anyone cares heres some of the results of our unoffical experiments:

    A standard tower PC can actually stop shotgun pellets (at smaller guage of shot, we didnot have the heavier shot to try with). The pellets simply would not penetrate the case. Any other weapon though, such as slugs in the shotgun, or even a little .22 went right through it no problem. Now thinking that robots might have a little more armor, (ala Terminator) We put some 1/2inch think steel plates in front of the PC's. This steel stopped all caliber pistols, .22, .30(special) .357 and .40 caliber. The only pistol that would penetrate (only on a clean shot) was my .454 casull, and this was with only solid rounds. Hollowpoint or softtips would just mush up. The 7.62 X 39 assault rifle rounds were another story. Right through it like it wasnot even there.

    You can have my guns when you pry my cold dead finger off the trigger.

  • I don't care how old the news is! This is much nearer to usefulness than the dog (which I've seen, at the Sony Building).

    The moment I began to read the specs, I started thinking about what a boon something like this can be for physically handicapped persons. It only needs to be stronger (and longer-powered) before a wheelchair user (or even a cane-dependent person such as myself) will have the help we need to be able to get over those missing curb cuts (with which Guiliani and his ilk have dotted NYC -- truly, places I used to be able to walk have been made inaccessible by replaced curbs recently!).

    Some of us don't need a robotic assistant able to do much more than walk independently and climb stairs -- and of course, it would be nice if it could also carry groceries and other packages... I can almost see the day when restaurants will have signs outside saying "No robots (except service robots assisting physically handicapped persons)." (-8

  • by rootofevil ( 188401 ) on Saturday July 01, 2000 @09:00PM (#963205) Homepage Journal
    Where did they find someone skinny enough to fit into the robot suit?
  • Clearly the bulk of this is marketing shmaltz - the cameras in the head, for example, seem to be of no practical use whatsoever.

    Notwithstanding, mastering bipedal movement is a useful technology to master, in anticipation of such time as the really tricky bits are solved - vision, understanding, communication, etc.

    The interesting thing, looking at the movies, is some of the ideosyncratic movements involved. In particular, some small arm movements which serve no apparent useful purpose but are very "human".

    Add to that the comment that they chose the centre of gravity for the limbs as the same CG from a human limb, and one wonders whether they did that so they could simply record the movements of some dude wearing a P3 suit, and then play it back throuh a real P3 actuator.

    This would save them actually figuring out movement algorithms, and would make P3 and it's control software little more than a mechanical tape recorder - nothing algorithmic at all.

    Just seems odd some of the nuances it has. Look at the movies and watch the limbs not involved in the main movements...

  • Somebody tell me when the Portman model comes out. Then I might be interested.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Reminds me of the movie where robots do common day to day tasks for humans. Robot servants basically. I wonder if this is our future...
  • There are some Spanish & Brazillian guys doing some reasearch [newscientist.com] on small electro-mechanical muscle fibles made from laminated electricaly conductive plastic that flex one way, then the other as an applied voltage is reversed. The research here was also done in 1997 (same as the P3).... Does anyone know any recent developments on this robot?
  • Now they just need to invent the laser blaster.

    I bet people would pay big money to see two teams of robots go at each other.

    Actually, this robot reminds me of that Saturday Night Live commecial parody, where Sam Waterson is selling insurance for robot attacks on old people. Anyone know where that footage is on the web?
  • by Luna-tic ( 105478 ) <slashdot@lunas.se> on Saturday July 01, 2000 @10:18PM (#963211) Homepage
    You can find a Swedish robot project at http://humanoid.fy.chalmers.se/ [chalmers.se].
    Featuring Elvis (named so because he moved his hips when he learned to walk), who is a tad bit smaller but has learned to walk all by himself (genetic programming).
  • Wow, they plan to do this on a plastic model of a human skeleton? That's gotta cause some complexity issues. Not to mention the miniaturization that would need to be done in order to fit the computer(s) into the body cavity. And what about appearance issues? I heard somewhere about a type of polymer that canbe used as a synthetic muscle (when a voltage is applied it contracts). there's also the realdoll. [realdoll.com] perhaps soon we'll see these things pretending to be us.
  • Hasn't anyone realized the potentially disastrous implications of this? If Dr. Who's Daleks [bbc.co.uk] ever get their hands on this technology and gain the ability to take over planets without elevators, there won't be any hope for any of us....
  • and what reason, pray tell, is there for aligning the eyes horozontaly? as opposed to say, 3 'eyes' in a triangle?

    My guess is that three cameras will cost you more in computations than you will gain in better estimations.

    Besides, there is even a solution to the problem that doesn't involve an extra camera. You could simply look at the frames from a few seconds ago, and compute the disparity using them. The old frames will be displaced along the other dimension if the robot has moved forward.

  • ...andover.net is apparently suing OSM for posting too many trolls. See the legal notice [warmann.com] on OSM's page and OSM's rantings on sid=nofreespeechhere [slashdot.org].
  • Thank God for the Fox News Channel.

    Good work
  • by Cliffton Watermore ( 199498 ) on Sunday July 02, 2000 @12:50AM (#963217) Homepage

    The Honda walking robot is one example of what many scientests feel is the way forward with regard to artificial intelligence and cybernetic systems development: Instead of trying to replicate core intelligence, many feel that the way to go is to replicate physical functions - IE, to create a "synthetic humanoid", instead of trying to create a "Brain Box", or neural network emulating human synapses and neurons, rather create a "human frame" that duplicates human movement, and from there, slowly "teach" the "organism" using various methods. Even if it comes out as a very slow, sub-ape intelligence-wise, some feel it will be making more progress than neural network/software brain modelling.

    I'm of the opinion that the brain is a system like any other, and, like any other system, will eventually have documented interfaces that scientests will be able to write against, creating an emulator, and eventually, a compatible interface. A lot of research going on at my current firm deals with software interfaces for biological structures, as well as analysis of the said biological structures. The future will, have no doubt, be very interesting.

  • How long before we see robots driving taxis a la Total Recall?

    They're working on it! In UC Berkeley they have a BATmobile [berkeley.edu] (Bayesian Automated Taxi) project. No hardware though. And for an off-topic note I'd say that slashdot is too hardware centric anyway.

    --

  • I love it whenever someone brings up nitinol for a lifting application. I went to an engineering concept. One of the stupid little tasks was to design a better door for the back of a pickup truck. Those doors are often greater than 30 pounds, but after thinking about it for a little while, the most we could come up with was a cylinder based system. Nothing new. So we decided to play with the judges. We drew are schematic, and decided to use a single strand of nitinol. Max lift: >1 pound. Not to mention it would break very easily. we still won.

    Maybe someone will develop another memory alloy, but even still: a large strand of it wouldn't be affective, just like muscle. You need to bundle up smaller cables.
  • by Tom7 ( 102298 ) on Sunday July 02, 2000 @05:01AM (#963220) Homepage Journal
    Man, this thing is pretty scary! Exciting, though. That bit of footage about soccer is definitely some animatronic-dancing propaganda about the world "robocup" robot soccer competition. This competition focuses less on kinematics and more on autonomous teamplay (the robots are NOT controlled by humans during play, and don't communicate with each other electronically), so the robots look more like mice than mechanized spacemen (though CMU's team for one of the leagues last year used the Sony Aibo, so we're getting there!). There's some neat information and pictures here:

    http://www.cs.cmu.edu/~robosoccer/ [cmu.edu]

  • by Seumas ( 6865 ) on Sunday July 02, 2000 @01:25AM (#963221)
    One of the major problems with this robot (I've seen it before, several times over the last few years) is that it requires a massive amount of power. You can only fit so much juice on the machine before the container of said power itself becomes too much of a physical burden on the robot to reasonably pack.
    ---
    seumas.com
  • When I worked at the advanced toy division of Mattel, we had the idea that we would use Nitinol to replace the gears and motors that currently drive all the "Walking" (really, more like "Crawling") Barbie dolls. Our intent was to eliminate weight and noise, along with eccentric movement caused by unbalanced motors.

    Unfortunately, we ran into a few problems- one being that Nitinol contracted based on the application of heat, and expanded when that heat was removed. Within the plastic body of the doll, heat built up too quickly, and the Nitinol lost its responsiveness after a few cycles. We even had a scheme where we had tiny moving heatsinks (copper tabs, IIRC) that would, as a part of the limb movement, come into contact with the wire at the end of the arc in order to wick heat away. Didn't sufficiently solve our heat problem. That's probably why all the "robots" you see that use Nitinol as a motive force have the wire exposed to the open air.

    Another issue was that the length of the contraction was not 100% predictable. The obvious solution was to call for more contraction than you need and then mechanically stop the motion at the desired point, but that's a waste of energy, and exacerbates the heat issue from before.

    I personally felt that we should stop trying to apply the wire like muscles- i.e. using them as motive power for the lever-like limbs, as a human does it- and instead create rotary "calliopes" of muscle wire, which would transform linear energy into constant rotary energy which would then be transferred via traditional gearing. Unfortunately, I never got a chance to go beyond the sketch stage with it- Mattel shut down the ToyLab as part of its budget cuts after their disastrous purchase of the Learning Company.
  • by orpheus ( 14534 ) on Sunday July 02, 2000 @05:11AM (#963224)
    It isn't sexy and is probably cheating for those who demand strict anthropomorphism, but as a cash-strapped teen hobbyist in the 70's I found that edge detection could be done easily with a cheap IR laser diode casting a stripe at a 45 degree angle (you could probably use an IR LED, but I needed a *bright* dot, or my crappy vidicon tube setup couldn't distinguish in lighting like 'sun streaming through venetian blinds')

    It didn't scan and it wasn't pivotable. (Both were planned future upgades that never got done) It was just a fixed optical element that converted tha IR laser 'dot' to a 'stripe'. It could rotate, so that the stripe could assume different angles to the vertical, but +45 and -45 were almost always adequate. The one trick is that the 'stripe' was a better discriminant when projected from near or below the level of the steps, not at head height. The video unit could be anywhere.

    IR showed up nicely on the old tubes I used, but was chosen because that's all I could get ($10 a pop *surplus* for the diode alone in 1978). It did made the system look cooler to human eyes, though. A trio of different colored visible light laser stripes would've been a very distinguishable signal in high noise, but that was just a dream back then. Now you can buy color laser pointers with sets of removable holographic gratings for a few bucks. I bet a simple fixed grid holograph at 45 degrees would do the job nicely. A second at 22 degrees would be a great backup.

    Subtracting successive beam off/on frames gave me all the info I needed for edge detection with monocular vision. Binocular should give you everything you need to climb stairs, I'd imagine.

    Admittedly, the discontinuity detection was more processor intensive than an edge filter, but I'm sure there are more efficient algorithms than the ones I used (and there simply is no comparison between an 0.5MHz 6502 and a GHz Athlon)

    The question is: would you rather be totally anthropomorphic or just get the job done?

    This approach probably wouldn't work for industrial robotic assembly (which may be why Honda didn't use it). Shiny surfaces, like factory fresh metal parts, really kill the image (and 'beams bouncing everywhere' wouldn't be too kind to bystanders, unless you stuck to low power IR)

  • If you are *nix user, don't bother downloading the movies. They are Sorenson all the way. Pity, such a high-tech site denied to high-tech people....
  • No, that's not what I said at all.

    And you know what? YOU are the one who's lost. Have you read my Bio? Obviously not. Enough said. You are making presumptions about what I said, based on YOUR limited knowledge. So please, don't pass your own ignorance off as other peoples', it doesn't reflect well on you.

    Someone, please moderate this Anonymous Coward troll down.

  • it needs binocular vision to fit its "human environment" design brief, but why can't its hearing be tweaked to make up for the defficiency? Humans who have limited sight may compensate with other senses, so it would still be ok conceptually. but presumably untrasonic sonar could give a complete 3d image of the room, and possible info about surfaces, densities, maybe even the velocities of moving objects..
  • I think they would have been better off putting the Japanese version of the site through Babelfish rather than trying to translate it themselves.

    Still, very cool. I remember seeing this a few years ago, and I couldn't believe there wasn't a small person in the suit. The motions seem quite natural.
    --
    Patrick Doyle
  • All of this new tech is really begining to scare me. I can see the days of the "Terminator" comming real soon. "Will we survie, humans I mean ?" "Its in your nature to destory your selfs" - Terminator 2
    until ( succeed ) try { again(); }
  • Just because we know how the robot internalizes its 'learning' - ie by evolving its software - does not mean it isn't learning. The fact is that if some 'agent' can not walk, and through pure experience (rather than explicit programming) develops the ability to walk, we call it learning, just as surely as a child learns to walk.

    I think that 'evolving' methodologies, and neural nets etc provide our best chance with this technology. It would be a good idea for the honda team to try a similar approach as Elvis on the control side. Perhaps add padding so it doesn't damage itself when learning to walk.

  • This is the bleeding edge of humanoid robot tech and I can't help thinking, THIS IS IT! Sure, it's impressive, compared to what came before it, but compared to humans it just ain't much to crow about. When is a independent humanoid robot going to be built that can actually replace a human at an industrial task like assembly or repair?
  • What legal basis do they have for this?

    --
  • People who critisize these stories and the editors of slashdot for posting them are to be shot and executed immediately. Their childish lack of respect will not be tolerated. This 'noise' will be eliminated at any cost.

    Hiel Hemos!

  • So Honda's got a walking robot (Honda Germany, I'll note) and Volkswagen has a car-driving robot [slashdot.org]. How long before we see robots driving taxis a la Total Recall [imdb.com]?

    And, just to throw in some eco-geekiness, it'll be a fuel cell-powered taxi, to boot.
  • The question is: would you rather be totally anthropomorphic or just get the job done?

    Well, for honda, anthropomorphic is obviously the goal.

    1. Anthro has more promo value. A cart that just wheels around looks too much like the Radio Shack remote-controlled toys to John Q. TVwatcher... a robot that walks and acts like a human, otoh, gets a big wow for honda. This is imporant, since bleeding-edge research projects get canned unless they can a) promise sell-able, profit-making results in the forseeable future or b) generate enough jaw-dropping to be considered good PR. In the post-reganomics world, projects that don't do either or both get canned.

    2. Sell-ability. Honda would like to, one day, put one of these in the homes of lazy geeks who would like to have a machine that can mow the lawn or help them move that couch downstairs... Sure the cart-bot is "easy", but people are more attracted to anthro forms. Witness the Sony dog-o-matic (or whatever it was called). People like robots because they are mechanical people. If it's not a mechanical person, it's just another machine. At least that's the public perception.

    This approach probably wouldn't work for industrial robotic assembly

    This is a totally different thing compared to industrial assembly. Most industrial robots are specialized, ie, they are designed to do one task or type of task and do it to exacting specifications ("don't tighten the screw too tight"). This robot is a generalist. It doesn't do anything particularly well but it does a wide variety of types of tasks. Industrial robots are like Peterbilts. They're good for one thing (driving heavy, big things long distances) but suck at anything outside of that realm (parallel parking, drag racing). This guy is more like a pickup: It can haul goods (although not as well as a Peterbilt), it can parallel park (although it needs a biggish spot) and it can drag race (although it won't win... at least it beats the Peterbilt).

    Back on topic:

    Okay, you seem to have a much more detailed history with robotics than I.... so maybe this is a dumb question but... what about radar or some other non-visible em wave? At the very least that would eliminate the venetian blind noise. Failing that, is a sonar-based approach a viable option?

  • by Frymaster ( 171343 ) on Saturday July 01, 2000 @09:11PM (#963236) Homepage Journal
    The site states that Humanoider Roboter von Honda (referred to as "the Robot" from here on...) cannot judge the height of the stairs.... yet "he" (it, she.... heck, them... it does have more than one cpu...) has a binocular vision set up. Back in the late 60's at MIT, Gospar et al were teaching computers to catch a ping pong ball.... catch a ping pong ball.... in the sixties .... shouldn't it be "easy" (read "easy for smart people who spend their lives doing this sorta stuff") to use the triangulated data of binocular vision to figure out the height of a riser?

    Apparently you can also download the dangerwillrobinson.wav file for this thing.... but I forget the url :)

  • How much longer till they release the M-P3 battle droid? Programmed to battle big record label executives while serving copywritten music. Could happen.
  • by Yamao ( 158661 )
    Hee hee. Funny... Anyone else around here old enough to remember Impossible Mission?

    After this robot, they need to make cylandrical ones that spit electricity and really big, black metal balls that just hover all day. Oh, yeah, and when are they going to make this one do somersaults?
  • One of the main advantages the PalmPilot has over the Apple Newton preceeding it, or the PocketPC attempting to replace it, is that it doesn't attempt to understand normal handwriting or reproduce a "typical" OS -- rather, it uses a minimal Graffiti handwriting and a simplified OS, thus making it far more portable and useable than the other palm computers.

    The same logic should apply to robots. It's great that we have one that looks and walks like a bipedal human, but do we really need such a robot? The only reasons humans (and other primates) need bipedal locomotion is to free up their hands for other tasks -- but clearly, this robot is a long way from achieving that level of independence.

    It's a pretty toy, but what can it do? It can walk like a person. Period. It would be more practical (and Palm-like) to keep robots on six legs, which gives them just as much all-terrain ability in a much smaller and faster package.

  • The concept that intelligence will follow physical development is supported by current anthropological theories concerning the origin of man. For generations the scientific community assumed that the "missing link" in the evolutionary chain between ourselves and our ape ancestors would be a chimpanzee-like ape with a larger brain. Much to the surprise of many, the discovery of "Lucy" the australopithecine revealed a hominid that walked erect but had no sign of human intelligence. Similarly, fossil evidence suggests that early hominids were using tools before they developed large brains. Perhaps the best way to go about developing artificial intelligence is to follow the pattern that resulted in real intelligence.
  • Please, some of us still have nightmares about that.
  • by dingbat_hp ( 98241 ) on Monday July 03, 2000 @05:51AM (#963242) Homepage

    Nitinol is cute, but very limited. It needs a huge power to generate a small force - most is wasted in heat.

    Mondotronics have a cute project book and kit for Nitinol, which is a splendid birthday present for any geek larvae you might know. Milford Instruments [demon.co.uk] sell it in the UK.

    If you want a more workable muscle for small robots, look at the Air Muscle [shadow.org.uk] from Shadow Robots. These are interesting because they generate a pull action from air pressure, yet in a small package.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Al Gore
  • > many modern devices use a single laser beam to judge distances, why not this robot?

    Lasers don't necessarily do all that well when teh surface in question doesn't reflect red light. Taking samples from three different bands, over expansive fields of view, allows albedo calculations off multiple points to be made in a vast array of conditions.

    --Dan
  • by Greyfox ( 87712 ) on Saturday July 01, 2000 @09:14PM (#963261) Homepage Journal
    How long could it be before I can get a fully loaded battle mech? Complete with rocket launchers and machine guns? Oh yeah! That'd make the commute to work fun again!
  • by Frymaster ( 171343 ) on Saturday July 01, 2000 @09:18PM (#963264) Homepage Journal
    How long could it be before I can get a fully loaded battle mech?

    Read the article! This robot is form "home use" and home use only! Fully loaded Battle Mech? For home use, your robot should be armed with nothing more powerful than a .38 calibre side arm (rifles permitted up to .762 but limited to clips of ten rounds or less).

    Sheesh.

  • by Drakkula ( 206927 ) on Sunday July 02, 2000 @02:36PM (#963266) Homepage
    It's understandable why projects like Honda's P3 get some much media attention, since they're meeting most people's idea of an artificial intelligent robot, even if in reality its more of an achievement in robotics, and not some much in 'pure' AI.
    Personally I must admit that research in androids produces very cool prototypes (see Android World [androidworld.com]) but it isn't necessarily the approach which takes AI research further. I agree that the way forward is to give AI ways of interacting with the world, and therefore robotics play and essential role, but I can't help feeling that the android approach diverts researcher's attention from the main problem, the 'Intelligence'.

    I guess there is always a reason to invest in androids as far as interaction with humans is necessary, but I always saw intelligent robotics being most useful where humans are not needed, i.e. space/deep sea exploration, miscellaneous operations in hostile environments, and as controversial as it may be, warfare.
    All these areas require autonomous machines as substitutes to humans, and I'm not surprised if we see some of the most exciting advances in AI coming from the Department of Defence, not Honda.

Statistics are no substitute for judgement. -- Henry Clay

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