Next-Gen Zeno R-50 Puts a Face on Research Robots

Hanson Robotics' latest version of its Zeno R-50 robot gets a new face, hints at cheaper cousins

2 min read
Next-Gen Zeno R-50 Puts a Face on Research Robots

Hanson Robotics is well known for its family of robots with delicately engineered, highly expressive faces made out of something that isn't called Flubber. At anywhere from $8,500 to $14,500, this level of sophistication doesn't come cheap, but a new model of Zeno the robotic boy has dropped some hints about a new generation of smaller cousins which will be much less expensive.

You get what you pay for with robots like Zeno: the top-of-the-line version comes with a full set of Dynamixel RX-28 and RX-64 servos, plus a sensor suite that includes an IMU, gyro, accelerometer, compass, torque sensors, touch sensors, and even temperature sensors. But the highlight (and the reason to buy one of these as opposed to something else) is the head:

The key is our skin, made of our patented Frubber material. This is a biomimetic polymer that contracts and folds like skin. This allows the robots to achieve life-like expressions in a low power, robust package. Because of our skin, our knowledge of anatomy, and our sophisticated robot engineering, RoboKind robots can accurately simulate the action of over 32 facial muscles. This allows for all the expressions of Ekman's Facial Action Coding System, and more.
The eyes move independently, and contain separate cameras for true binocular stereovision. The eye action allows for natural eye motion, simulating natural eye saccades. The eye and neck DoF redundancy is important for expressive gestures and gaze fixation. The eyes contain high definition cameras that are 720p, 30fps with USB 2.0. The eyes have natural eyelid action. The head nods, turns, tilts and pitches.

This newest version of Zeno has a face that's been simplified, along with a redesigned body. Here it is in action, showing off an impressive knowledge of sports trivia and second amendment rights, among other things:

Generally, I'm not a fan of building humanlike (anthropomorphic) robots just for the sake of building humanlike robots, partially because I feel like there's plenty of evidence to show that a human face (for example) is simply not necessary for conveying complex emotions and indeed can even be counterproductive. I do, however, agree with David Hanson that building robots that do convey emotions is important to the future of human-robot interaction, and making non-uncanny (canny?) research robots is one way of doing so that should definitely be explored.

[ Hanson Robotics ] via [ Plastic Pals ]

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How the U.S. Army Is Turning Robots Into Team Players

Engineers battle the limits of deep learning for battlefield bots

11 min read
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.

Evan Ackerman

“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.

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

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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