Twendy-One is what is described by its creators as "a human-symbiotic
robot". Standing five feet tall, and weighing 245 pounds, Twendy is bristling
with sensors and artificial muscles. Developed by by Sugano Laboratory, Department
of Modern Mechanical Engineering, Waseda University, Japan, this robot is designed
as a replacement for difficult to find and keep human care staff for elderly
or infirm individuals.
Twendy is not ready for deployment at time of writing, but has been in continuous
development for a number of years. The effort, as its creator put it, is to
create a human looking robot that patients can bond with.
"We must be very careful about the appearance and the materials used when
we design the outer shell of a human-symbiotic robot because the robot should
never hurt the humans or the surrounding environment on its contact," said
Professor Sugano, the brains behind Twendy. "Also, the appearance is very
important from an affinity standpoint. Exposing many cables outside the robot's
body shell could create major problems, and therefore, we must place all cables
inside the shell. Furthermore, cables must be compact in order not to interfere
with moving parts. "
The size and the movable range of Twendy's arm and hand are designed equally
to those of the average adult female. The arm has seven degrees of freedom with
one redundancy and the four-finger-hand has thirteen degrees of freedom in total
to manipulate an object dextrously. As the mobility is an important rule of
the service application, an omni-directional mobile mechanism is introduced.
This mechanism enables the robot to easily follow and adapt to external and
involuntary force applied from human. The trunk of the robot has four degrees
of freedom so that the hand can reach the floor to pick up an object and to
wipe off the floor. Appearance wise, it is designed to be not dissimilar to
a human in basic features if not facial shape, and if possible to be cute. The
outer shell is designed to cover all the wire harnesses and shock absorb.
By the end of 2007, Twendy was capable of finding and lifting solid objects
such as pencils. By the end of 2008, it could do the same with an egg, or break
it over a bowl, and carry a tray. Little by little it is being steadily improved
towards the goal of performing menial household chores for those who cannot.
As the makers' site put it:
Handing a caretaker a straw-in-juice cup; picking up a thin straw from
the dining table with its fingertips of its hand and deftly passing and manipulating
among fingers not to let it drop, then putting it into a delicate plastic
cup handled by another hand softly without crushing it.
Faithfully following expected/ unexpected external force applied from
persons to any part of the manipulator including the upper arm, forearm and
even hand grasping an object, owing to passive impedance of arms and hands;
mechanical compliance mounted to arm joints enabling persons to swing the
manipulator quickly with a very small amount of force even by the little finger,
which is useful for enhancing human-robot safe physical interaction: multi-finger
coordinating motions based on force control using 6-axis force/torque sensors
mounted on fingertips allowing to reduce the disturbance occurring to a plastic
bottle handled by a hand not to let it drop.