Is your room a mess? This robot might help!
Toyota's new robot glides around like R2-D2 from the Star Wars movies. It is devoted to a single task: picking things up.
HSR is short for "human support robot." It comes with a single mechanical arm. It can grasp objects of various shapes and sizes and also pick up smaller items with a tiny suction cup.
It doesn't have other tricks in its repertoire, except for a computer panel on its head for surfing the Internet. A person can also access the robot from another computer and use it like a camera-phone.
Kouichi Ikeda is its engineer. He is serious about using it to help around regular homes. First it will be for people with disabilities and then for the elderly in general. Picking up is especially challenging for people with spinal disorders and other ailments that hamper the ability to stoop down and grab, he said.
"Although it can only do one simple task of picking up, it's already making disabled people quite happy. We're just getting started. But eventually we want it to enter people's homes," Ikeda said at an exhibition of health care technology. It was held in Yokohama, southwest of Tokyo.
Nearly 40 percent of Japan's population will be 65 or older by 2060. The rest of the developed world and some developing nations also will follow that track. Toyota is banking on the demand for robot helpers to grow.
"People feel more comfortable asking a robot to pick up after them than asking a human helper," said Tadashi Hatakenaka. He is manager and engineer at the Yokohama Rehabilitation Center.
A robot like HSR is also ideal to replace service dogs. The animals go through special training to help people with various disabilities. This includes those who use wheelchairs, have balance issues or may be prone to seizures, he said.
Toyota came up with the basic concept model for HSR in 2012.
The revamped model is expected to enter universities, research facilities and businesses next year. It will be involved in partnerships to develop more applications, so the robot can enter homes as quickly as possible.
One drawback is cost. Mass production is needed for the price to come down. Toyota declined to give the current price.
Ikeda showed how HSR can be controlled relatively easily. A user tapped on a tablet device to fetch a TV remote-controller.
The 4-foot-4 tall robot has several cameras. They include two on its head that look like its eyes and sensors on its body. It scoots quietly around in all directions.
Unlike the robotic arms at auto-assembly plants, HSR's grip and bumps are designed to be soft. That's so they can't hurt anyone. But it can pick up items that weigh up to 2.6 pounds.
There was no attempt to make its design cute, like the Pepper childlike robot that recently went on sale in Japan from Japanese Internet company Softbank Corp.
Toyota has long been working on robots. The company even has a human-shaped one with fingers dexterous enough to play the trumpet. Another plays the violin.