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Iran's Humanoid Robot Surena Walks, Stands on One Leg

IEEE Spectrum obtained videos showing that the Iranian humanoid can indeed walk

2 min read
Surena II, an adult-size humanoid robot developed at the University of Tehran, in Iran
Surena II, an adult-size humanoid developed by University of Tehran roboticists.
Photo: University of Tehran

Iranian researchers at the University of Tehran unveiled last month an adult-size humanoid robot called Surena II.

Initial pressreports by Iran’s official news agencies didn’t include a lot of details about the robot, saying only it could “walk like a human being but at a slower pace,” as well as perform some other tasks, and questions surfaced about the robot’s real capabilities.

Now IEEE Spectrum has obtained more details about Surena and exclusive images and videos showing that the robot can indeed walk—and even stand on one leg.

Aghil Yousefi-Koma, a professor of engineering at the University of Tehran who leads the Surena project, tells me that the goal is to explore “both theoretical and experimental aspects of bipedal locomotion.”

The humanoid relies on gyroscopes and accelerometers to remain stable, and although it still moves its legs slowly, Professor Yousefi-Koma says his team is developing a “feedback control system that provides dynamic balance, yielding a much more human-like motion.”

Surena II, which weighs in at 45 kilograms and is 1.45 meter tall, has a total of 22 degrees of freedom (DoF): The legs have each 6 DoF, the arms 4 DoF, and the head 2 DoF. An operator uses a remote controller to make the robot walk and move its arms and head. The robot can also bow.

Surena doesn’t have the agile arms of Hubo, the powerful legs of Petman, or the charisma of Asimo, but this is only the robot’s second generation, built by a team of 20 engineers and students in less than two years. The first version of the robot, much simpler, with only 8 DoF, was demonstrated in late 2008.

Surena 2 humanoid robot

Professor Yousefi-Koma, who is director of both the Center for Advanced Vehicles (CAV) and the Advanced Dynamic and Control Systems Laboratory (ADCSL) at the University of Tehran, says another goal of the project is to “demonstrate to students and to the public the excitement of a career in engineering.”

For the next generation of the robot, the researchers plan to develop speech and vision capabilities and improve the robot’s overall mobility and dexterity. They also plan to give Surena “a higher level of machine intelligence,” Professor Yousefi-Koma says, “suitable for various industrial, medical, and household applications.”

The robot was unveiled by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on 3 July in Tehran as part of the country’s celebration of “Industry and Mine Day.” The robot is a joint project between the Center for Advanced Vehicles and the R&D Society of Iranian Industries and Mines.

Below, a demo the researchers gave on Iranian TV and more photos.

Surena 2 humanoid robot

Surena 2 humanoid robot

Photos and videos: University of Tehran/Center for Advanced Vehicles

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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.

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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