New Japanese Robot Lifts Patients Off Floor Into Wheelchair





Summary: Japanese researchers have developed a robot that can lift a patient up to 80kg (176 lbs) off the floor and onto a wheelchair, charting a path for high-quality care for its growing elderly population, by Chris Jablonski  —  Researchers in Japan have unveiled a robot that can lift a patient up to 80kg (176 lbs) off the floor and onto a wheelchair.

Developed by a joint team at RIKEN and Tokai Rubber Industries (TRI), the robot, nicknamed RIBA (Robot for Interactive Body Assistance) 2,  uses high-precision tactile sensors and flexible motor controls to gently lift and transport patients from the floor or bed onto a wheelchair and vice versa. A human care-giver is still required to monitor and aid with embarking and disembarking the robot.

The robot frees care facility personnel of one of the most difficult and energy-consuming tasks that they are faced with roughly 40 times per day.

Shaped like a teddy bear, RIBA 2 is soft to the touch and responds to voice commands. It is more capable than its predecessor, RIBA (2009), which was the first robot able to lift a 61kg (134 lbs) patient from a bed to a wheelchair and back, but not from the floor.

RIBA 2 has new joints in its base and lower back to enable it to crouch down and lift a patient off a futon at floor level, the most physically strenuous task for care-givers. To accomplish this, it uses the first capacitance-type tactile sensors made entirely of rubber, say the researchers. These “Smart Rubber” sensors are printed in sheets and fitted onto the robot’s arms and chest to provide high-precision tactile guidance and allow the robot to quickly detect a person’s weight from touch alone.

Next for the team is to partner with nursing care facilities to test RIBA 2 and further tailor it to the needs of care-givers and their patients. They will also develop new applications in areas such as rehabilitation and take steps toward commercialization.

With an elderly population in need of nursing care projected to reach a staggering 5.69 million by 2015, Japan faces an urgent need for new approaches to assist care-giving personnel, giving RIBA 2, and robots like it a promising future.


Watch RIBA




Soft Robot Uses Air to Move


Credit: George M. Whitesides/Harvard



Summary: Chemists at Harvard University have created a biologically inspired robot out of elastic polymers that can crawl across surfaces and under obstacles, December 1, 2011, by Chris Jablonski  —  Harvard researchers have blended organic chemistry, soft materials science, and robotics to create a soft robot inspired by animals like squid and worms.

The soft robot has no hard internal skeleton and uses no sensors. It crawls by using a network of valves and tubes that guide air into and out of four elastomer leg compartments called ‘pneu-nets’ and a body section.

The pneumatically actuated robot can navigate obstacles using one of several gaits–walking, crawling, and slithering–and it can deflate to pass through tiny little gaps (see video below).

The research team, lead by professor George M. Whitesides, recently published a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences describing their invention.

According to Whitesides, the advantage of soft robotics is that they demonstrate “simple types of actuation produce complex motion.” They are also cheaper to produce than hard metallic robots.

In an earlier experiment, Whitesides and his colleagues created a starfish-shaped gripper using elastic polymers that inflate like balloons for actuation. The soft gripper was able to perform delicate tasks such as picking up eggs.

Impressed by the gripper-bot, Jonathan Rossiter, an engineering lecturer at England’s University of Bristol, had this to say last February in Chemical & Engineering News:

The work presented here is exciting not because of fundamental scientific advance, but rather because of the insight of the authors in using conventional technologies to produce extremely novel soft and active devices. There is a sense of organic beauty in these structures and, indeed, the biologically inspired nature of this work results in compact and effective mechanisms which would be difficult to design from scratch.

Soft robots can’t yet handle heavy loads or conduct electricity, but the researchers believe that eventually they may be able to by incorporating the right materials.





Meet MABEL, World’s Fastest Robot with Two Legs (w/ video), by Chris Jablonski  —  Summary: The world’s fastest bipedal robot with knees has a human-like gait and reaches speeds of up to 6.8 miles per hour.

A two-legged robot at the University of Michigan can run like a human and reach a peak speed of 6.8 miles per hour. MABEL, as the machine is called, is believed to be the world’s fastest bipedal robot with knees.

Built in 2008 with funding from the National Science Foundation and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, MABEL has been in “training” for the last few years.

Researchers have been progressively improving the feedback algorithms that keep the bipedal robot balanced while reacting to its environment in real time.

It’s weight is distributed like a person’s and it has a heavier torso and light, flexible legs with springs that act like tendons.  Whereas other speed-walking robots achieve a flight phase–when both feet are off the ground–for less than 10 percent of each step, MABEL is in the air for 40 percent of each stride, much like a human.

“We envision some extraordinary potential applications for legged robot research: exoskeletons that enable wheelchair-bound people to walk again or that give rescuers super-human abilities, and powered prosthetic limbs that behave like their biological counterparts,” said Jonathan Hurst, now an assistant professor at Oregon State University, who helped create the robot.

The advantage of two-legged robots with good running form would give them an edge over wheeled-bots in rough terrain and inside places built for humans. They could one-day serve as robotic soldiers or rescuers, the engineers say.

“The robotics community has been trying to come up with machines that can go places where humans can go, so a human morphology is important,” said Jessy Grizzle, a U-M professor.

In the video below, the bar that MABEL is attached to guides it in a circular path. Also, you’ll see it speed up and then abruptly slow down several times on purpose.


University of Michigan’s MABEL runs free for over 110 steps! In our opinion, this is the most realistic, human-like running achieved on a robot. It has a very satisfying feel to it. The robot just moves right. It is up in the air for more than a third of the duration of step. The height off the ground is right. Whereas other robots had their feet maybe one sixth of an inch off the ground, MABEL is 3 to 4 in inches in the air. The motion of the hip, which is like a bouncing ball, and the pitching of the torso give you the sensation of running. It all just makes you say, that is running.

Feedback algorithm for running was designed by Koushil Sreenath as part of his PhD dissertation. The detailed model used in the work was developed by Hae-won Park as part of his PhD dissertation.

For the feedback control aficionados, we used a nonlinear, compliant hybrid zero dynamics controller with active force control, running in real-time. How about that! MABEL weighs over 65 Kg, has a heavy torso (40 Kg), has point feet, and a cable-driven transmission system with compliance. This makes it a challenging machine to control. The Hybrid Zero Dynamics (HZD) framework was instrumental in our success.

The achieved peak speed is 3.06 m/s (6.8 mph), with an average speed of 1.95 m/s (4.4 mph). The obtained gait has flight phase that’s almost 40% of the gait, with a ground clearance of 3-4 inches.

How did we do it?

The answer is not as simple as “we got one thing right”. Our success arose from a combination of things, several of which are very technical, but if we had to focus on two primary things, it would be very good machine design and very good feedback algorithm design. Specifically, the coordination of those two aspects. The machine design determines the passive behaviors of the robot, or how it will move when all power is turned off; springs, masses, and so on will enable or limit what you can do with the feedback control. Therefore, the machine was designed with the intent to emulate some aspects of human biomechanics; we then created an extremely detailed mathematical model of the robot after it was built, and then designed our control algorithms around this very precise model. This approach is rare in robotics, and has not been accomplished in past bipedal running robots.

Machine design: The bipedal robot MABEL was designed in 2006-2007, and built in 2008. The novelty was to have a machine with a roughly human weight distribution and springs that act like tendons in the human body.

Human weight distribution means that most of the weight of the robot is concentrated in the torso (upper body), while the legs are relatively light, so they can be moved forward and backward quickly for fast locomotion.

The springs in the robot serve two purposes. The first purpose is that when the robot’s legs strike the ground, the springs act as shock absorbers. Specifically, running has a flight phase, where both feet are off the ground, and a stance phase, where one leg is on the ground. When a 145 pound (65 Kg) robot like MABEL ends the flight phase by landing on a leg, the force is pretty large. The springs make the landing more gentle. In some sense, this is what the arch in your foot does for you, or a good pair of running shoes. The second purpose of the springs is to store energy. This is analogous to a pogo stick, where the robot bounces up and down on the springs, storing and releasing energy with each stride. This effect has been shown to be an important aspect of all animal running. MABEL seems to be the first robot with human-like morphology to get this right.

Feedback Control:

What is feedback? Most everyone has an intuitive notion of feedback, such as when a supervisor provides feedback on an employee’s performance, or when your body regulates your temperature to a constant 98.6 F (37 C) despite varying levels of physical activity and outside temperature. Feedback means that the input signals that are regulating a system are adjusted as a function of measurements (observations) of the system.

MABEL has four electric motors, two for each leg, which provide power. Whether the robot is walking, running, or just standing, there is a feedback controller on a computer that measures all of the positions of the robot’s joints and the angle of its body, and then determines the proper power commands to send to the motors.

The foundation for our feedback controller is the detailed mathematical model of the mechanism: we have used this model to determine the best relationship between the measured leg angle relative to the ground, and the motions of all other robot joints. Our feedback controller implements this specific relationship on the robot, using information from sensors to control the motors. The resulting motions, in conjunction with the springs and masses of the robot mechanism, determine the forces that the leg applies to the ground, realizing a running gait.


Very Fast Robot Runs on Two Legs, November/December 2011, by Peter Murray  —  The open source platform allows users to come up with their own apps, such as the devious “Spy Robot App.”

How awesome is Romo the Smartphone Robot? Without knowing anything about it, you simply have to look at the robot’s Kickstarter page. The pledge goal was $32,000. The robot has raised $114,796.

I’d say these guys are on to something.

The guys – Peter Seid and Phu Nguyen – have turned your smartphone into a robot. They’ve built a robotics platform that uses a smartphone for a brain to control a mobile, two-track base. Just attach your smartphone to the base, plug a cord into the earphone jack, download the apps, and using another smartphone, iPad, or computer to control it – you’ve got a robot! The guys are only just getting started, but already they’ve made a “Spy Robot” app that allows you to drive Romo around while seeing the world through the smartphone camera. It can track objects with a color tracking app. Another app turns Romo into a doodler. Just make your drawing on the smartphone touchscreen and Romo follows the pattern, driving around and turning your pixel drawing into a real one. You can also have a conversation with Romo, which makes sense since it has a phone for a head.

Seid and Nguyen’s genius was to recognize that you don’t have to build a robot from the ground up. With their self-admitted nerdyness, the two longed to create a functional robot but without the millions of dollars it takes to create the beast that is Honda’s Asimo, they recognized that supercomputer robotic brains had already been built that are cheap and are everywhere. They built Romo and founded the company Romotive to build more.





The beauty of having a smartphone for a brain is that it is limited only by its apps. Seid and Nguyen, and the growing number of Romo users, are hard at work coming up with new applications, which means the sky’s the limit. They encourage hackers to take Romo apart, to find new ways to interface the smartphone and hardware. And they’re working on an SDK of their own that will run on iOS and Android to make programming easier and more flexible. A forum on their website provides a place where hackers can share their innovations with others. Given the obvious enthusiasm, I see their apps library growing quickly, becoming the smartphone equivalent to the Robot Operating System applications library for robots. Yet another example of the power of open source.

Just $78 gets you a Romo (smartphone not included, duh). An iPod Touch can also be used with the platform. Controls are sent over Wi-Fi, so you can potentially play with Romo over half a world away.

Romo isn’t the first robot to use a smartphone for a brain. iRobot’s AVA turns smartphones, tablets or notebooks into mobile robots. With laser range finders and accelerometers and other major league hardware, AVA’s obviously the superior telepresence robot. But Romo’s our robot, the one we can actually get our hands on and program. Smartphones were already awesome, but Romo takes them to a whole new level. And now that Romotive has got some serious startup funds, the mobile robot could very soon leave your brand new 4S in the dust.


Romo Uses a Smartphone for a Brain