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Japanese MH-2 Shoulder Robot Wants To Be Your Friend, Literally

This 20-DOF miniature humanoid acts as a shoulder-mounded remote-telepresence avatar

2 min read
Japanese MH-2 Shoulder Robot Wants To Be Your Friend, Literally

Nobody likes being alone, and Japanese researchers from Yamagata University are developing a robot to make sure you’ll never have to be alone again: the MH-2 wearable miniature humanoid lives on your shoulder and can be remotely inhabited by your friends from anywhere in the world. 

MH-2 (that’s “MH” for “miniature humanoid”) is a wearable telepresence robot that acts as an avatar for a remote operator. With two 7-DOF arms, a 3-DOF head and 2-DOF body, plus one additional DOF for realistic breathing (!), MH-2 is designed to be able to mimic human actions as accurately and realistically as possible. Think Telenoid, except it can actually do stuff besides wiggle around semi-creepily.

This may seem a little bit weird at first, but here’s the idea: you’ve got a friend or a relative that you want to share an experience with. Like, you’re traveling or something, and you want some company. Instead of having said friend come along with you (we’ll assume that they’re busy as opposed to just antisocial), you can bring along an MH-2 instead. Back home, your friend puts on a 360-degree immersive 3D display and stands in front of some sort of motion capture environment (like a Kinect, for example). Then, they get to see whatever the MH-2 sees. Meanwhile, the robot on your shoulder acts like an avatar, duplicating the speech and gestures of your friend right there for you to interact with directly. Ultimately, this is what the MH-2 is going for:

For all this to work convincingly, gestures need to be reproduced accurately and quickly, at a speed equivalent to a human being making gestures in real time. This is why MH-2 is so complicated and requires that gigantic backpack full of servos, which control its joints by tugging on wires:

This backpack doesn't look like it's probably a whole lot of fun to carry around for extended periods of time, which is why the researchers are trying to find ways to reduce the bulk of the 22 (!) actuators that are currently required to operate the MH-2. Until that happens, you'll just have to accept the fact that using the MH-2 could possibly make you look like a little bit of a robot geek. Possibly.

The 20-DOF Miniature Humanoid MH-2: a Wearable Communication System, by Yuichi Tsumaki, Fumiaki Ono, and Taisuke Tsukuda, from Yamagata University in Japan, was presented this month at the 2012 IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation, in St. Paul, Minn.

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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
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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
DarkGray

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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