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Japan Is Building a Giant Gundam Robot That Can Walk

At 18 meters tall and weighing 25 tons, this would be the largest humanoid robot ever built

2 min read
Image: Gundam Global Challenge

Japan has had a robust robot culture for decades, thanks (at least in part) to the success of the Gundam series, which are bipedal humanoid robots controlled by a human who rides inside of them. I would tell you how many different TV series and video games and manga there are about Gundam, but I’m certain I can’t count that high—there’s like seriously a lot of Gundam stuff out there. One of the most visible bits of Gundam stuff is a real life full-scale Gundam statue in Tokyo, but who really wants a statue, right? C’mon, Japan! Bring us the real thing!

Gundam Factory Yokohama, which is a Gundam Factory in Yokohama, is constructing an 18-meter-tall, 25-ton Gundam robot. The plan is for the robot to have a steel frame and carbon resin exterior and be powered by electric actuators, achieving “Gundam-like movement” with its 24 degrees of freedom, including the ability to walk. The robot will rely on Asratec’s V-Sido operating system, which will be used to generate motion. 

Video: Kazumichi Moriyama/Impress

The University of Tokyo’s JSK Lab, one of the partners in the project, has developed a Gundam simulator that researchers can use to explore different behaviors for the robot. As we all know, simulation is pretty much just as good as reality, which is good because so far simulation is all we have of this robot, including these 1/30 scale models of the robot and the docking and maintenance facility that will be built for it:

Video: RobotStart

Apparently, the robot is coupled to a mobile support system (“Gundam Carrier”) that can move the robot in and out of the docking infrastructure, and perhaps provide power and support while the robot takes a step or two backwards and forwards, but it’s really not at all clear at this point how it’s all supposed to work. And it looks that when the robot does move, it’ll be remote controlled and spectators will be restricted to watching from a nearby building, which experience with watching large robots walk tells us is probably in the best interests of everyone.

Gundam robot in JapanImage: Sotsu/Sunrise/Gundam Factory Yokohama

The current schedule is for the robot to be open to the public by October, which seems like it’ll be a challenge—but if anyone can do it, it’s Gundam Factory Yokohama. Because no one else will.

[ Gundam Factory Yokohama ] via [ Impress ] and [ RobotStart ]

Updated 4 February 2020

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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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