bots IN BRIEF
SIGN OF THE TIMES
Unlike the DARPA robots, Nino — a humanoid unveiled
earlier this year by the National Taiwan University's Robotics
Laboratory — may not find itself performing tasks in dangerous
situations any time soon, but this robot has some special skills. It is
likely the first full-sized humanoid to demonstrate sign language.
"Sign language has a high degree of difficulty, requiring the use
of both arms, hands, and fingers, as well as facial expressions,"
commented Professor Han-Pang Huang, who leads NTU's
Robotics Lab. That's why sign language, he added, is an ideal task to
help researchers develop capable robot hands which could also
find applications in factories or other kinds of work that require
Nino stands 1.45 meters ( 4' 9") tall and weighs 68 kilograms
(150 lbs). It has 52 degrees of freedom — including individual
finger joints — and is equipped with 112 sensors that monitor the
robot's motors, power usage, and temperature.An LED array in its
head produces simple emoticon-style expressions such as blinking
and lip movements. Nino is also able to walk, turn, and slowly
climb up and down stairs and ramps.
One challenge for robot sign language is that mechanical
hands with five fingers are usually considered slightly redundant for
the type of work robots are expected to do. Advanced robots
such as Boston Dynamics' Atlas or Willow Garage's PR2 feature
only two or three fingers. Up until its latest revision, even Honda's
ASIMO (considered one of the world's most advanced humanoids)
didn't have hands with individually moving fingers. KAIST's Hubo
robots are among the exceptions.
It took 20 researchers and students about three years to
develop Nino, but they still have their work cut out for them.
Although the robot was programmed to sign certain words in
advance — such as introducing itself at a press conference — it
doesn't have the image processing software necessary to interpret
human signing which uses subtle movements and can be very
quick. In the future, they'd like Nino to be able to hold a
conversation with a person using only sign gestures.
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