Hubo II Humanoid Robot Is Lighter and Faster, Makes His Creator Proud

The creator of Albert Hubo is back with a new, better -- and less creepy -- humanoid robot

2 min read
Hubo II Humanoid Robot Is Lighter and Faster, Makes His Creator Proud

Why is Professor Jun Ho Oh smiling? Because, as he told me recently, he has a "new son."

It's Hubo II, the humanoid above, which Oh and his colleagues developed at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology's Humanoid Robot Research Center, aka Hubo Lab.

Professor Oh built the original Hubo in 2004. It was one of the first advanced full-body humanoid robots developed outside Japan. But he's probably better known for another humanoid: Albert Hubo, which had a Hubo body and an Albert Einstein animatronic head developed by Hanson Robotics.

Now Professor Oh is ready to introduce the new addition to his family. Hubo II is lighter and faster than its older brother, weighing 45 kilograms, or a third less, and capable of walking two times faster.

Watch the demo:

[youtube //www.youtube.com/v/dJRzJt-Dwic&hl=en_US&fs=1& expand=1]

A major improvement over early humanoid designs is Hubo II's gait. Most humanoid robots walk with their knees bent, which is dynamically more stable but not natural compared to human walking. Hubo II, Professor Oh says, performs straight leg walking. It consumes less energy and allows for faster walking. Note Hubo II's left knee extended when the leg swings forward (middle image below):

The robot has more than 40 motors and dozens of sensors, cameras, and controllers. It carries a lithium polymer battery with a 480 watt-hour capacity, which keeps the robot running up 2 hours with movement and up to 7 hours without movement.

Hubo II uses two identical PC104 embedded computers with solid state hard disks and connected via a serial interface. The left one can control the entire robot, taking care of functions like walking and overall stabilization; the right one is normally empty and you can load speech, vision, and navigation algorithms to see how they perform on Hubo.

Another improvement is the hand design. It weighs only 380 grams and has five motors and a torque sensor. It can handle any object that fits on its palm, and its wrist can rotate in a humanlike way.

Talking with Professor Oh made me appreciate how difficult humanoid projects are. The challenge, he told me, is not just cramming all the hardware into a tight space, but also making sure everything works together. Cables can unexpectedly restrict joint movements; power and control boards interfere with each other; modules end up too heavy and create instability.

So many things can go wrong. The problem is that, whereas in a wheeled robot a failure usually means the robot stops on its tracks, in a humanoid robot failure often means a face-plant.

Professor Oh wants to make a robust design to avoid such catastrophic failures. He believes Hubo II is a big step in that direction. So needless to say, he's very proud of his new son. Congrats, Professor Oh!

PS: Wondering what happened to Albert Hubo? It has a cameo appearance in the video above, watch until the end...

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Robot with threads near a fallen branch

RoMan, the Army Research Laboratory's robotic manipulator, considers the best way to grasp and move a tree branch at the Adelphi Laboratory Center, in Maryland.

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This article is part of our special report on AI, “The Great AI Reckoning.

"I should probably not be standing this close," I think to myself, as the robot slowly approaches a large tree branch on the floor in front of me. It's not the size of the branch that makes me nervous—it's that the robot is operating autonomously, and that while I know what it's supposed to do, I'm not entirely sure what it will do. If everything works the way the roboticists at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL) in Adelphi, Md., expect, the robot will identify the branch, grasp it, and drag it out of the way. These folks know what they're doing, but I've spent enough time around robots that I take a small step backwards anyway.

The robot, named RoMan, for Robotic Manipulator, is about the size of a large lawn mower, with a tracked base that helps it handle most kinds of terrain. At the front, it has a squat torso equipped with cameras and depth sensors, as well as a pair of arms that were harvested from a prototype disaster-response robot originally developed at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory for a DARPA robotics competition. RoMan's job today is roadway clearing, a multistep task that ARL wants the robot to complete as autonomously as possible. Instead of instructing the robot to grasp specific objects in specific ways and move them to specific places, the operators tell RoMan to "go clear a path." It's then up to the robot to make all the decisions necessary to achieve that objective.

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