The robots are coming … to help us.
Almost a decade ago, as the U.S. war in Afghanistan trudged on, Army Ranger Romulo Camargo was shot in the neck when his troop was ambushed during a humanitarian mission. He was paralyzed from the neck down and struggles with daily tasks that most people might take for granted.
Recently, however, Camargo got a little help in the form of a pint-sized, one-armed robot from Toyota. The company announced Friday that it has completed an in-home trial of its Human Support Robot with Camargo.
The 3 foot-tall, 81 pound robot spent time doing a handful of basic, yet useful tasks for Camargo, like opening doors and grabbing food from the pantry and delivering them to the decorated veteran.
“When they opened the box, and I saw the robot, I figured we would unfold the next chapter in human support robots helping people with disabilities — like this research is going to change the world,” said Camargo in a release.
Toyota designed the robot to be a helpful and safe home companion. The robot can extend its body up over a foot and then the single, telescoping arm reaches deliberately out, as the on-board intelligence identifies objects. Vacuum-pad grippers help the robot grab everything from a pencil to a water bottle to a doorknob.
The robot can move autonomously (thanks to obstacle avoidance) at 5 mph through the home, but can also be controlled via smartphone. It has three primary modes: pick-up with the gripper that extends from the body; fetch, which responds to voice commands; and manual control.
It also has a small screen at its top, where people who connect to it via Skype can appear.
In robot circles, Toyota is probably best-known for Asimo, the humanoid bot capable of walking, running, navigating stairs, and greeting people. However, the Human Support Robot joins a growing legion of Toyota home and human-assistant robots, including the wearable brace, WelWalk, and Transfer Assist Robot, which can move an adult from a bed to a chair or even to a toilet.
Camargo’s robot splits the difference between the anthropomorphized Asimo and Toyota’s wearable and rideable robots. It’s short, a mixture of white and black, and relatively nondescript, but it does have a face, of sorts, and a voice. The stereo camera eyes and nose-like wide-angle camera look in your direction or the direction of its task, and a robotic voice responds to voice commands like, “open the door.”
The robot runs for about three hours on a charge, but, Toyota told us, it can’t recharge itself.
Like most of Toyota’s robots, this one is designed to assist those with disabilities and the elderly. Toyota is based in Japan where the populations is aging more quickly than in other parts of the world.
With the two-day trial complete, Toyota, now plans to showcase the robot at Friday’s NASCAR Coke 400 pre-race in Daytona, Beach, Florida. As for Camargo, Toyota said they will continue to work with him “to understand how we can use platforms like HSR to improve mobility.”
When we asked Toyota how much this robot cost and its availability for purchase, they told us that, since it’s considered an on-going research project, it would be premature to talk about either aspect.