Honda's human-like robot ASIMO stole the show at several European research and technology events last year, including the pan-European Researchers' Night. But now it is time for James, Germany's proud new arrival, to tread the boards – completely unaided, it should be noted.
He may not be the cutest newborn in the world but his parents – robotics scientists and engineers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits (IIS) in Germany – are still proud as can be of their new robot James. The cutting-edge technology holding James together was showcased at the famous CeBIT international fair, recently held in Hanover (DE).
|James the robot finds his way in unknown surroundings.|
© Fraunhofer IIS
James is not meant to be a ‘humanoid'. He is a self-orienting robot which, unlike Asimo, gets about on wheels, making him particularly suited to safety applications, services and transport. Intelligent imaging and novel camera technology give James' the ability to find his way round and, according to his inventors, one day recognise people. With facial and object recognition, 3D-path reconstruction and wireless local-area networks (WLAN) to communicate, James can orientate even over unknown terrain.
So-called CogniCams operate like an image processing system allowing him to navigate autonomously and collision-free as he detects obstacles, people and objects in real-time. Like humans, he will be able to generate images of the surroundings with 3D reconstruction guiding him around a building, for example.
Since this technology can be used not only for robots but also for many other systems, the Fraunhofer scientists chose a simple, generically programmable platform. The integrated image processing and WLAN systems can also be put to use in vehicles and for transport, optimising existing technology and safety features for passengers. But the researchers have even more applications in mind.
Most people have come across guard dogs but could robots do the job? James' inventors seem to think some of the simpler monitoring tasks could, one day, be managed by our robotic friends. James could patrol empty buildings and close doors he knows should not be open. According to his inventors, James or his brothers could even someday be a helper for people in need of home care.
“As robots are moving out of the shop floor, robot technologies should be able to couple further the world of information and communication with the world of physical interaction,” notes the website for the ‘Advanced robotics' activities in the EU's Information Society Technologies (IST) programme. “This will make them the interface of choice for a new variety of services in the professional and private sector,” it concludes.
In related news, the European Commission recently announced it had earmarked €100 million from its Sixth Framework Programme (FP6) for research into vehicle safety for occupants and vulnerable road users. Current and new research is trying to improve on active and passive safety features in vehicles with a view to cutting the road-related death toll and injuries, such as whiplash.
The PReVENT project, for example, is developing in-vehicle systems to sense and assess pending danger while taking into consideration driver profiles. Another, called AWAKE, is developing "the most promising detection system developed so far", warning drivers of potential drowsiness or inattention.