Humanoid Robot Mahru Mimics a Person's Movements in Real Time

mahru humanoid robot

Mahru, an advanced biped humanoid developed by the Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) and Samsung Electronics, has a bunch of skills.

Mahru knows its way around a kitchen, popping a snack into the microwave and bringing it to you, as KIST researchers demonstrated when they unveiled the robot's latest version, Mahru Z, early this year.

Mahru can also dance and perform Taekwondo moves. (More on that later.)

Now how do the KIST researchers go about programming Mahru to do all that? I asked this question when I visited KIST a while ago.

Dr. Bum-Jae You, head of KIST's Cognitive Robotics Center, in Seoul, told me that they use two approaches. One involves filming a person with body markers using a traditional optical motion-capture system to track the body movements. The other, which they've been using more recently, relies on a wearable inertial motion-capture suit [photo above].

A person wears the suit while performing various tasks. The movements are recorded and the robot is then programmed to reproduce the tasks while adapting to changes in the space, such as a displaced objects.

But the cool thing is, the capture and reproduction of movements can also take place in real time. When I visited, Dr. You and his students demonstrated this capability using a Mahru III robot.

Watch the demo:

Watch in HD

When the operator moves his arms, Mahru moves its arms. There's virtually no delay. There's a delay, though, in the walking part -- after the operator takes a few steps, it takes some time for the robot to follow suit. But Dr. You told me they're working to do that in real time as well.

There are several telepresence robots out there, and many more should be around soon. But typically an operator has control only over the robot's legs or wheels or head; very few allow for full-body remote operation.

Mahru's arm movements under teleoperation are quite impressive -- fast and precise, and also safe, thanks to force-torque sensors and compliant control. Eventually, Dr. You says, a person will be able to teleperate a robot to accomplish manipulation tasks -- and also walk over to people and shake their hands.

Note on the photo above the operator with the motion-capture suit (behind the robot) extending his right hand -- while the robot does the same.

Dr. You and his team also showed me Mahru's dancing capabilities. This demo involved an earlier version of the Mahru robot [below]. Really cool to see the "guts" of the machine -- and the sticker saying "Dancer."

Watch the dance:

Watch in HD

I asked Dr. You if that was traditional Korean dance. Nope, he said, laughing. The choreography comes from the Wonder Girls.

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