Japan has long held world dominance when it comes to walking humanoid robots, its most famous emissary being the charismatic, child-size, astronaut-like Asimo, which ambles, runs, and climbs stairs. Until recently, only South Korea had demonstrated full-size humanoids with legs as impressive as those of their Japanese counterparts. Now other countries are trying to catch up. Here's how four robots might take on Asimo in a future robot race.
REEM-B Pal Robotics, Barcelona
Reem-B was designed to assist humans with everyday tasks, says Davide Faconti, founder of Pal Robotics. The 1.47-meter-high robot can walk at a relatively slow speed of 1.5 kilometers per hour, but thanks to powerful actuators in its legs and arms, Reem-B "is probably the strongest humanoid in the world," says Faconti, boasting that his robot can carry a 12-kilogram payload—say, a big watermelon. Try that, Asimo.
JUSTIN German Aerospace Center's Institute of Robotics and Mechatronics, Oberpfaffenhofen-Wessling, Germany
Justin is currently a four-wheeled robot with a head and two dexterous arms, but researchers have demonstrated a pair of legs [right] that may become its lower body. The legs use powerful yet lightweight motors to explore joint torque-based control concepts for biped balancing and walking, according to engineer Christian Ott. If Justin's legs turn out to be as nimble as its arms, Asimo might not stand a chance.
CHARLI Virginia Tech's Robotics & Mechanisms Laboratory, Blacksburg, Va.
CHARLI (Cognitive Humanoid Autonomous Robot with Learning Intelligence) is the first untethered, autonomous, full-size walking humanoid robot built in the United States, according to Virginia Tech roboticist Dennis Hong. He and his team are now upgrading it with custom-made linear actuators that help mimic how human limbs move. In a soccer match against Asimo, Hong's team is confident that CHARLI would prevail.
SURENA 2 University of Tehran's Advanced Vehicles Center, Tehran
This 1.45-meter-high humanoid was developed to help researchers explore aspects of bipedal locomotion, says Tehran University professor Aghil Yousefi-Koma. His team is working on a feedback control system that yields a much more humanlike motion. Surena 2 might be a slow walker, but it has its tricks: It can bow, stand on one leg, and according to some news reports, dance. Dance-off, Asimo?