Japanese robot gets more life-like
TOKYO (Reuters) - A pearly white robot that looks a little like E.T. boosted a man out of bed, chatted and helped prepare his breakfast with its deft hands in Tokyo on Tuesday, in a further sign robots are becoming more like their human inventors.
Twendy-One, named as a 21st century edition of a previous robot, Wendy, has soft hands and fingers that gently grip, enough strength to support humans as they sit up and stand, and supple movements that respond to human touch.
It can pick up a loaf of bread without crushing it, serve toast and help lift people out of bed.
"It's the first robot in the world with this much system integration," said Shigeki Sugano, professor of mechanical engineering at Waseda University, who led the Twendy-One project (http://twendyone.com) and demonstrated the result on Tuesday.
"It's difficult to balance strength with flexibility."
The robot is a little shorter than an average Japanese woman at 1.5 m (5 ft), but heavy-set at 111 kg (245 lb). Its long arms and a face shaped like a giant squashed bean mean it resembles the alien movie character E.T.
Twendy-One has taken nearly seven years and a budget of several million dollars to pull together all the high-tech features, including the ability to speak and 241 pressure-sensors in each silicon-wrapped hand, into the soft and flexible robot.
The robot put toast on a plate and fetched ketchup from a fridge when asked, after greeting its patient for the demonstration with a robotic "good morning" and "bon appetit."
Sugano said he hoped to develop a commercially viable robot that could help the elderly and maybe work in offices by 2015 with a price tag of around $200,000.
But for now, it is still a work in progress. Twendy-One has just 15 minutes of battery life and its computer-laden back has a tendency to overheat after each use.
"The robot is so complicated that even for us, it's difficult to get it to move," Sugano said.
(Reporting by Yoko Kubota; Editing by Jerry Norton)