We're always caught slightly off-guard when major Asian electronics companies introduce a new robot with virtually zero warning, like Toyota just did with their Human Support Robot, or HSR. Designed to assist disabled people, the HSR looks like it might be good for all kinds of household tasks whether you're disabled or not.

There isn't a heck of a lot of information beyond what Toyota provided in their (translated) press release, but here's what we know: the HSR has a tablet for a head that can be used for telepresence or as a graphical interface, as with Ava. The base is mobile, with a PR2-style articulated torso that can extend from about half a meter in height up to just under a meter and a half. It sort of looks like there's an Xtion in the head, but we're not sure what other sensors might be in there as well. Top speed is 3 kph, and the HSR can make it over 9mm obstacles and climb slopes of 5 degrees.

The arm, which appears to have six or seven degrees of freedom plus the gripper, can lift small objects that weigh 1.2 kilos or less. It's designed to move slowly enough to be inherently safe, but we have no idea what sort of precision or intelligence is built into it.

This is an interesting robot to see from Toyota for a couple reasons. While we don't have any information as to what it might cost, you don't use a tablet brain, an Xtion, and just a single arm unless you're being at least a little bit mindful of what the price is going to end up as. Also, as we mentioned, while acting as an aid to disabled humans is a fine entry point for robots (especially considering that insurance in Japan defrays 90% of the cost), there's no reason that this robot wouldn't be just dandy for doing tasks for those of us who are able-bodied as well, provided that it has the sensors necessary to actually do all the stuff we'd want it to.

Toyota's new robot has been undergoing testing at the Yokohama Rehabilitation Center for the last year, and it'll be on display in Tokyo this week.

[ Toyota ] via [ Gizmag ]

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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

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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

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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