Toyota Unveils New Robots

December 11, 2007
Toyota Motor Corporation revealed two new robots in Tokyo last week. The so-called Toyota Partner Robots are being designed for domestic duties, nursing and healthcare, manufacturing, and short-distance personal transport.The Mobility Robot is designed to provide transport in places where people usually walk, and looks like an especially promising and sophisticated alternative to wheelchairs for those with limited mobility. It can travel about 12.5 miles per charge, take on inclines up to ten percent, and can go nearly four miles per hour — about equivalent to a leisurely jog. Most importantly, it can negotiate steps by individually raising and lowering its left and right wheels.

Other abilities of the Mobility Robot include avoiding obstacles to reach its owner and a function in which it can follow the owner and essentially be a porter. Essentially a pedestal seat perched on a main body, with the extending leg-wheels underneath, the R2-D2-like bot is just over three feet tall but weighs 330 pounds.

More closely fitting our science-fiction expectations of what a robot should look like, a la C-3PO, the humanoid Violin-playing Robot, at five feet tall and 123 pounds, is designed to give assistance with domestic duties and nursing/medical care.

Human-like hand movement and arm strength is its forte — the Violin-playing Robot has a total of 17 joints in both of its hands and arms — which Toyota showcases with its violin-playing purpose. According to the company, the bot is able to achieve vibrato on a violin that's close to that created by humans.

Toyota said that it will continue to further its robotic development and aims to put the robots in practical use in the early part of the next decade. The company plans to run a practical-use trial of the Mobility Robot beginning in the second half of 2008, while the company is hoping to expand the abilities of the Violin-playing Robot with more arm flexibility to use general-purpose tools.

A dancing NASCAR Pit Bot perhaps, Toyota?

Rival Honda may be a shuffle-step ahead; it's been working on robots since 1986, and Asimo, its humanoid robot, has been through several iterations since first making its public debut by ringing the New York Stock Exchange opening bell in February, 2002. Currently Asimo can run, walk forward and backward, climb or descend stairs, and take direction from a person.

The Mobility Robot could also be the far predecessor to some of the futuristic entries for this year's Design Challenge, which culminated in awards held during the L.A. auto show last month. This year's theme — "Robocar 2057" — brought a wide range of theoretical vehicles of the 50-year future that mix attributes of robots, at least vaguely, the look and function of a car. This year's winner, the two-wheeled, teardrop-shaped Volkswagen Slipstream, travels upright when in the city to take up less space and provide a better viewpoint, then goes horizontal for horizontal flying-car action for longer distances.

-- Bengt Halvorson

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