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Humanoid Robot Mahru Mimics Your Movements in Real Time

An operator wearing a sensor suit can control this robot's arms and legs

2 min read
Humanoid Robot Mahru Mimics Your Movements in Real Time

mahru humanoid robot

Mahru, an advanced humanoid robot developed by the Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) and Samsung Electronics, knows its way around a kitchen. In a demonstration, the robot popped a snack into the microwave and brought it over to a researcher standing nearby.

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 these different tasks? I asked this question when I visited KIST early this year.

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 body movements. The other, which they’ve been using more recently, relies on a wearable inertial motion-capture suit [shown in the 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.

When the operator moves his arms, Mahru moves its arms. There’s virtually no delay. The only task when there is a delay is when the robot is walking—if the operator takes a few steps, the robot follows suit after a few seconds. But Dr. You told me they’re working to do that in real time as well.

There are several telepresence robots in operation, and many more should be available soon. But typically an operator has control only over the robot’s legs or wheels; 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 manipulate objects. They’ll also be able to shake your hands without crushing them.

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]. Fascinating to see the “guts” of the machine—including the little sticker saying “Dancer.”

The Conversation (0)

The Bionic-Hand Arms Race

The prosthetics industry is too focused on high-tech limbs that are complicated, costly, and often impractical

12 min read
A photograph of a young woman with brown eyes and neck length hair dyed rose gold sits at a white table. In one hand she holds a carbon fiber robotic arm and hand. Her other arm ends near her elbow. Her short sleeve shirt has a pattern on it of illustrated hands.

The author, Britt Young, holding her Ottobock bebionic bionic arm.

Gabriela Hasbun. Makeup: Maria Nguyen for MAC cosmetics; Hair: Joan Laqui for Living Proof

In Jules Verne’s 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon, members of the fictitious Baltimore Gun Club, all disabled Civil War veterans, restlessly search for a new enemy to conquer. They had spent the war innovating new, deadlier weaponry. By the war’s end, with “not quite one arm between four persons, and exactly two legs between six,” these self-taught amputee-weaponsmiths decide to repurpose their skills toward a new projectile: a rocket ship.

The story of the Baltimore Gun Club propelling themselves to the moon is about the extraordinary masculine power of the veteran, who doesn’t simply “overcome” his disability; he derives power and ambition from it. Their “crutches, wooden legs, artificial arms, steel hooks, caoutchouc [rubber] jaws, silver craniums [and] platinum noses” don’t play leading roles in their personalities—they are merely tools on their bodies. These piecemeal men are unlikely crusaders of invention with an even more unlikely mission. And yet who better to design the next great leap in technology than men remade by technology themselves?

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