Robot News Roundup: Japan
Things happen fast and in bunches in this country that has been robot savvy and researching robots since the karakuri ningyo (mechanical dolls) from the Edo period (1603?1867).
The robotics industry may well be more important in Japan than any other country in the world.
Japan employs over a quarter of a million industrial robot workers. In the next 15 years, Japan estimates that number to jump to over one million and they expect revenue for robotics to be near $70 billion by 2025.
Robot Roundup takes a thumbnail look at some of Japan’s latest products, top technology and best ideas.
1. Novel walking boot helps stroke victims
Every year, 15 million people worldwide experience a stroke.
Yaskawa Electric has developed an ankle assist walking device to help people who’ve had a stroke to walk more easily.
By encouraging a longer and more confident gait, Yaskawa Electric?s has new ankle-assist walking device helps stroke victims regain the ability to walk.
Currently undergoing patient trials, the ankle assist has shown an immediate positive effect. Goal of the trials is to confirm the therapeutic value of the device. If successful, the device will be released for sale in 2015.
See related article: Hey Nike, Doesn?t This Robot Scream ?Just Do It??
See also RBR50:Yaskawa Motoman Robotics
2. Robot to manage care of lab animals
Raising colonies of laboratory animals, especially 10,000 to 30,000 rodents, regularly risks disease spread between animals and caretakers.
The current vertical, multi-jointed model can mimic human motion through six-axis joints. The next model will include a camera to monitor food levels, and for added surveillance. A complete system is this year?s goal, with the hope of several completed sets for 2014.
See related article: Robotic Lab Technician Melds Precision and Programmability
RBR50: Yaskawa Motoman Robotics
3. Driverless valet parking to optimize traffic flow
Japanese automotive manufacturer, Honda, has developed a cost-efficient valet parking system using surveillance cameras to park cars autonomously.
To combat dense automobile population, the system maps empty spaces and directs cars in a driver drop-off area to an open location. Multiple cars can be directed simultaneously.
First prototypes are cars with rear cameras, the most common in Japan, and use the camera system for added vision around the car. Honda plans to develop programs for car cameras and lot management systems, for implementation by or before 2020.
See RBR50: Honda Robotics
4. Autonomous trash can rolls to catch litter
Minorou Kurata, an engineer at a Japanese automaker, has developed the Smart Trash Can, which detects and calculates where tossed trash will fall and autonomously moves to catch it.
Currently pending patents, the can uses sensors to detect trash and special, single-axis mechanism for both wheel rotation and can angle change. The trash can can move toward the trash without unbalancing the receptacle.
The Smart Trash Can presently catches only 10-20%, but is being improved. Kurata has been approached to commercialize the robot, but will not do so before the technology is better developed.
Catch it in action here.
See related article: Dumpster-Diving Robots from ZenRobotics
5. Making industrial robots multi-functional
As industrial robots become a staple of manufacturing, KOSMEK has developed a high-precision robotic hand changer to switch tools and applications automatically.
The tool changer boasts high precision, high rigidity and a long life. Accuracy is improved by eliminating clearance between the master cylinder and tool adapter through dual contact surface resting. This reduces the backlash and tip deviation common with ordinary changers.
KOSMEK aims to equip a single robot for a variety of functions, streamlining the transition and downtime between tasks, such as processing, assembly or inspection.
See also: KOSMEK LTD.
6. Robots to keep us?and infrastructure?from harm
Since 2000, over 50 major bridge collapses have happened worldwide?in the most technologically advanced society to date.
The Bridge Inspection Robot Equipping Magnets (BIREM), developed at Osaka City University, is a robotic answer to this problem.
BIREM scurries up walls and clings to ceilings at 7.8 inches per second by four wheels, each with eight magnetic spokes to adhere to the structure it inspects. The flexible body structure allows seamless transition from vertical to horizontal surfaces; a laser range sensor, camera and other data collection hardware finds corrosion and cracking in bridges and steel infrastructure.
The engineering team hopes continued development will have BIREM to market in three years.
See related article: Keeping Concrete Safe: Robot Crawler and Sound Waves
7. Proving and improving rehabilitation through robotics
If you?ve ever seriously injured yourself, you know the frustration and difficulty of rehabilitation training. But R-cloud, developed by Associate Professor Toshiaki Tsuji at Saitama University, uses high-precision sensors to make rehabilitation more effective and rewarding for both patient and physical therapist.
Strictly designed for arm therapy currently, the R-cloud uses pneumatic muscles to support patient movements, all the while using haptic signal processing to estimate muscular force. Sensors measure this, muscle contraction, and arm angle; through collected data, the robot calculates quantifiable evaluations on training.
Clear data provides physical therapists with resources to improve patient progress and a database which Tsuji?s lab hopes will translate to a rehabilitation cloud system.
See related article: New International Standards Boon to Personal Care Robotics
8. Robot responder dominating the competition
DARPA?s pipe dream of robotics emergency responders has been the continued focus of the Robotics Challenge? and Schaft?s S-One robot is handily in the lead.
At 5 feet and 209 pounds, S-One is shorter and lighter than DARPA-darling Atlas, and has proven more dexterous in initial challenges, receiving 27 of a possible 32 points.
Both Schaft and Atlas-maker Boston Dynamics were recently acquired by Google, and will continue to participate in the competition, seeking the $2 million prize.
See related article: And the Winner Is: My Man SCHAFT
9. The robotic farm hand
Farmers? hours are limited by daylight, but not the strawberry-picking robot developed in part by Shibuya Seiki automation firm.
Roving along rails in a greenhouse, the robot judges ripeness by 3D stereo camera. The robot?s arm then snips the stem and collects the berry roughly every 8 seconds.
Overnight, the robot could harvest two-thirds of available strawberries while farmers sleep; any the robot miss will be for the farmer to pick.
The robot is a commercial version of the one developed by Japan?s National Agriculture and Food Research Organization and is set to hit markets in early 2014 at $50,000.
See related article: A View from the Berry Fields on Robot Automation
10. Super-human strength in a robotic suit
In the wake of the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, Japanese robotics is seeing a surge in emergency and service robotics.
Panasonic Activelink researchers have turned their focus to a robotic exoskeleton, called the Power Loader, which can supplement human strength to carry over 200 pounds.
Motors at the hips, knees and ankles are controlled by six-axis sensors in the shoe soles. The developers? key focus is to deliver increased strength without sacrificing agility and functionality in emergency situations.
See related article: Move Over Honda and Cyberdyne, Here Comes Yaskawa?s Exoskeleton