Monday, March 13, 2006

RI-MAN, the soft-skinned robot


RI-MAN, an autonomous lifestyle-support robot developed at RIKEN’s Bio-Mimetic Control Research Center (Nagoya, Japan), now has soft skin. If put to work in care facilities, RI-MAN’s soft arms and chest will enable it to perform delicate work that present-day robots are not allowed to do, such as lifting patients up into its arms.

The robot, which is 158 cm (5 ft 2 in) tall and weighs about 100 kg (220 lbs), consists of a humanoid upper body that sits atop a wheeled base. A 5-mm layer of silicone covers most of the upper body, including the face and chest. The skin sinks in slightly when pressed, giving it a resilient, supple feeling. Under the layer of silicone are 320 pressure sensors that enable RI-MAN to self-adjust the softness as needed.

Research team leader Zhiwei Luo says, “We may see commercial applications of this technology in as early as five years.”

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