Robots That Jump

Robot Bodies Needed Before Robot Minds

Robots That Jump – Historical Sept 25, 2003

Sony and Disney push the robot bar
Bravo to Sony and Disney for pushing the envelope on robots that jump. Sony has announced a new version of the Aibo, the ERS-7 – lots of fun at http://www.us.aibo.com. The new Aibo has over 40 sensors, making it a real “sensitive” robot — in contrast to traditional robot design with just a couple of sensors. A key feature is an ‘edge detector’ sensor which allows the Aibo to notice sudden drops and go drop over a table or down the stairs.

Visually, the Aibo can recognize faces and also can read custom cards and perform an action (e.g., dancing). For the next-generation Aibo, Sony is licensing the vision software created by Evolution Robotics. This software allows the robot to learn objects by viewing them, rather than being pre-programmed to recognize them. The day when an Aibo can fetch the paper is not far off.

Sony also has updated their SDR mini-humanoid robot, now called the QURO. The QRIO can walk dynamically, adjust to stairs, inclines, and differently-textured terrain (e.g. carpet versus hard floors). It has similar face/voice recognition to the Aibo, and may have an even more complex ability to plan a path around obstacles. Processors and memory appear to be about 3 times as complex as the Aibo. But put Evolution Robotics software in this elf-sized robot and we may finally have a machine that can get a can of refreshment from the refrigerator.

While most of the US tech industry continue to ignore robots, Disney is moving ahead. They hired Peter Dilworth (of “Trudy” fame) and their efforts have borne first fruit in “Lucky” – a real robotic dinosaur. There are great pictures and movies available at Mouseplanet. This site shows Lucky’s debut at the Disney California Adventure in August. Movies on the site show that Luck have an amazingly lifelike gait. Unlike earlier “animatronic” systems used by Disney, Lucky has an internal power source and no tether – it walks freely. Partial support is supplied by the cart it pulls, but who’s quibbling. The neck and head move in amazingly lifelike ways. Looking at this system it is clear we are only a few short years from a robotic “Jurassic Park.”

I wonder what will happen when these robots are more common? Who will care about a computer graphic dinosaur when the real thing is available? We may see a shift away from cyberspace and to real-world robotics.

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