Sunday, April 17, 2005

The Robots Are Coming!

Nuvo mecha
Japan has long been infatuated with mechanical things, or mecha (mek-ka). For decades anime fans have been enthralled by mecha in animation, from early animated shows like Tetsujin 28 (Gigantor) and Tetsuwan Atom (Astro Boy) to the more contemporary Gundam, Macross, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Escaflowne, and RahXephon. Intelligent robotic technology has always been a staple in Japanese animation, which interestingly enough has given Japan an edge over the US when it comes to real world technology. Japanese popular culture has generally portrayed robots as super heroes and friendly, helpful servants to humankind. Those raised on such positive representations of mecha have become Japan’s visionary researchers and scientists whose aim is to actually create robots that will serve humanity. Art mimics life, and real world robots have been under development in Japan for some time.

No doubt you’ve heard of Asimo, the 4 foot high humanoid robot designed by Honda. Asimo is the only robot currently in existence that can climb stairs. This miraculous mecha also has video cameras for eyes, enabling it to recognize faces. It responds to voice commands, and can shake hands and dance. Not to be outdone, Hitachi is developing its Emiew robot, hailed as the fastest robot in existence. Looking like something out of The Jetsons, Emiew have wheels instead of legs, and they’re equipped with sensors that allow them to avoid bumping into things. They have voice recognition and a limited vocabulary of around 100 words. Emiew, which stands for "Excellent Mobility and Interactive Existence as Workmate", are being designed to serve humans in real work situations.

Japanese scientists are working on a new generation of Asimo and Emiew robots with upgraded and expanded capabilities, and there’s little doubt that other prototypes will soon be invented by other research institutions and corporations. As an example of the rush to develop robotic technology that will have direct interaction with humans, ZMP Inc. of Japan has developed a small robot it calls Nuvo. Standing some 15 inches high, Nuvo is a human-shaped robot that was designed for home security. It can not only walk, but it can get up if it falls down -something no other robot can currently do. It responds to simple voice commands like “stop” or “turn left”. The Nuvo unit links to mobile phones so that owners can check in real time the images of their homes or businesses taken on the digital camera inside a Nuvo’s head. The robot is on sale in Japan for 588,000 yen or $5,450. (posted by Black Moon Robot)