Samsung's robotics division presented the company's latest humanoid robot, Roboray, at IROS 2012 in Portugal last week. Researchers led by Kyungsik Roh have been co-developing humanoid robots with the Korean Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) since 2004 and the Roboray is a departure from their earlier robot (known as "Mahru", of which there are several models) thanks to its torque controlled leg joints, which give it more human-like walking capabilities.
On the surface, the Roboray looks quite a bit like the Mahru 3, its predecessor developed in 2007. However, the Mahru series has never shown the ability to run like some of its competitors (those developed by Honda, Toyota, and the Korean Advanced Institute of Science and Technology have demonstrated this capability).
Roboray may eventually join that list, but for now the researchers are still learning how to best take advantage of its new capabilities. At a height of 4 ft 11 inches (150 cm) and a weight of 136 lbs (62 kg), it's a full-size humanoid robot with 32 joints (not including its fingers). The team has already begun developing face and speech recognition software specifically for the robot.
Roboray's legs are powered by a combination of harmonic drive actuators and compliant tendon-driven actuators, all of which are torque controlled. The compliant joints are used in the hips, knees, and ankles, and have a certain amount of give that can be tightened or relaxed. Unlike earlier robots that walk with bent knees, the compliant joints can absorb impacts, which give it a more natural and energy efficient walking gait.
With Roboray, Korea joins the shortlist of countries (including Italy, Germany, Japan, and the United States) that are developing torque-controlled bipeds, which improves their balance, push recovery, and ability to walk on uneven terrain. You can see the difference for yourself in the pair of videos below. In the first video, Roboray walks with straight legs while descending a slope, and adjusts itself while being pushed by a researcher. The other video shows the older Mahru 3 walking with bent knees – a method which has been common in humanoid robots for the past decade.
Samsung has shown a consistent interest in consumer robotics technology since the turn of the millennium, perhaps in response to Sony's abandoned "entertainment robotics" division which sprang up around the same time. Over the years, the company has commercialized robotic vacuum cleaners and toyed with the notion of household robots in various forms, from cute edutainment droids to sophisticated humanoids that may one day serve humankind.
For the time being, Roboray is just a research project, but it shows Samsung's determination to keep abreast of their technological rivals.
Images are from the paper "Balancing and Walking Control for a Torque-controlled Humanoid Robot" by Joohyung Kim, Keehong Seo, Minhyung Lee, Bokman Lim, Jusuk Lee, and Kyungsik Roh (SAIT, Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd., Yongin-si, Korea)