Success in Having a Humanoid Robot Drive an Industrial Vehicle Outdoors

- When it wears protective clothing it can also perform outdoor work in the rain. -

Key Points

  1. This is the first successful trial in the world to remotely control a man-emulating robot so as to drive an industrial vehicle (backhoe) outdoors in lieu of a human operator.
  2. Furthermore, the robot's operation was controlled while having it wear protective clothing to protect it against the rain and dust outside. This too marks a world-first success demonstrating the robot's capability of performing outdoor work even in the rain.
  3. This has been achieved with an HRP-1S robot whose Honda R&D made hardware was provided with control software developed by the AIST.
  4. The robot has a promising application potential for restoration work in environments struck by catastrophes and in civil engineering and construction project sites where it can "work" safely and smoothly.


Outline photo

Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Ltd. ("KHI"), Tokyu Construction Co., Ltd. ("Tokyu Construction"), and the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology ("AIST"), an independent government organization, have achieved a world-first success in their joint development of a humanoid robot (HRP-1S): This robot was remotely controlled to perform outdoor work tasks normally carried out by human operators involving the operation (driving and excavation) of a vibrating industrial vehicle (backhoe) in the seated position.

Furthermore, operation was achieved with the robot wearing protective clothing to protect against rain and dust. This also marks a world-first success indicating the robot's ability to carry out outdoor work tasks even in the rain.

These results were achieved thanks to the development of the following three technologies: (1) the "remote control technology" for instructing the humanoid robot to perform total body movements under remote control and the "remote control system" for executing the remote control tasks (KHI); (2) the "protection technology" for protecting the humanoid robot against shock and vibrations of its operating seat and against the influences of the natural environment such as rain and dust (Tokyu Construction); and (3) "full-body operation control technology" for controlling the humanoid robot's total body work movements with autonomous control capability to prevent the robot from falling over (Intelligent System Institute of the AIST under the team led by Senior Research Scientist Yokoi).

There have been many attempts until the present to robotize the industrial vehicles (including backhoes) themselves for work on sites requiring their operation in dangerous work areas or in adverse environments. In contrast, the use of a humanoid robot to operate the industrial vehicle instead of a human operator has two distinct advantages: (1) This means that robot does not only drive the vehicle but is also capable of executing the attendant work tasks (alighting from the vehicle to check the work site, carrying out simple repairs, etc.) and (2) it permits the robotizing of all industrial vehicles without needing to modify them. This Research Group has already succeeded in the development of a robot capable of "operating a forklift truck in the standing position instead of a human operator" using the same system. This earlier success and the present achievement add up to a substantial confirmation of the universal capability of the two humanoid robots.

Once humanoid robots now engaged in other types of work can be used, when necessary, for operational duties normally performed by human operators there will be a definite chance for a greater expansion of the humanoid robot market which in turn holds promise of further reductions in their production and operating costs.

The major insight gained from this success that has demonstrated the humanoid robot's ability to replace the human operator in operating (driving and excavation duties) commercially used industrial vehicles (backhoe) under remote control is the realization that humanoid robots are capable of moving in the same manner as humans. The humanoid robot's ability to carry out outdoor work tasks even in the rain by "wearing" protective clothing has widened the scope of the environmental conditions in which it is capable of executing work. From these two aspects there is every reason to expect that these results will make a substantial contribution toward the realization of practical work-performing humanoid robots.

The development tasks ahead will include work to create wireless remote control and achieve a robot capable of boarding the industrial vehicle independently. To this end, experiments imitating real work conditions and evaluations of the robot's work performance and productivity will be carried out to pave the way for the early achievement of the work-performing humanoid robot.

The present research and development project is an integral part of the Humanoid Robotics Project ("HRP") that is being implemented by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry under a Five-year Program from 1998 and has been executed on a commission assigned by the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO). The Manufacturing Science and Technology Center (MSTC) is in charge of the management organization for the HRP as a whole.

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