November 29, 2013      

Since 2004, Barcelona-based PAL Robotics has been contracted by the United Arab Emirates to build a humanoid robot that could rival the likes of Honda?s ASIMO. Ten years into development, PAL reveals the third iteration of its fully autonomous REEM robot (named after an island off the coast of Abu Dhabi). REEM-C is the first model designed to be mass-produced and sold commercially as a research platform.

It?s a testament to the company?s ingenuity that PAL Robotics has translated a royal prince?s multi-million dollar pet project into several generations of fully autonomous humanoids comparable to the likes of Honda?s ASIMO, Kawada Industries? HUBO 2 ($400K) and AIST’s HRP-4 ($300K) on a budget ten times lower.

Previous incarnations

REEM-A was first built witin one year. By 2006, it had been programmed to walk and play chess, and it could recognize faces, objects, and verbal commands. In 2007, it placed second in RoboCup soccer’s Adult Size league. That same year at Wired NextFest, it one-upped robots like KAIST’s HUBO and Honda’s ASIMO (which were limited to pre-rehearsed stage shows) by walking around freely amongst the show’s visitors.

By 2008, the team’s second generation robot, REEM-B, took its first steps. This version of the robot was able to carry up to 12 kg (26 lb), which made it the strongest bipedal humanoid robot at that time. One of REEM-B’s more unusual design features included laser range finders on its feet, which could generate maps of its surroundings as it walked. And it was capable of operating for up to 2 hours on its internal batteries, about double the running time of Honda’s ASIMO.

In 2010, the company debuted the first commercial version of the robot simply titled REEM, which it designed to roam around malls, airports, and other busy places where it would interact with the public. Keeping speed and safety in mind, it scoots around on wheels rather than legs, and can carry bags in its luggage compartment. A large touch screen in its chest can display maps or the latest sales. Despite being designed with commercial functionality in mind, REEM was never officially sold.

REEM-C

PAL is targeting labs and academic institutions as early customers. REEM-C is ROS compatible and comes with an SDK for programming new applications. It includes implemented algorithms.

The research platform is 5?4, about the size of an average human, and weighs in at 154 pounds. It has 44 degrees of freedom and can lift a little over 2 pounds. REEM-C also comes equipped with two Intel i7 computers, force/torque sensors and laser range finders in its feet. It?s the latter that allows REEM-C to take steps autonomously (ASIMO demonstrations rely on pre-measured, pre-programmed steps). The robot also comes with stereo cameras, four microphones, and other built in devices for advanced sensing.

Powered by a 48 V Lithium-Ion battery, it can perform for up to 3 hours with frequent movement or 6 hours on stand-by, and takes about 5 hours to fully charge (which is slightly better than its competition). For now, REEM-C walks at a maximum speed of about 1 foot per second, but will likely speed up with more development.

Here?s a video of REEM-C?s first steps: