Toyota has unveiled a new assistant robot designed to help the disabled live more independently. Called the Human Support Robot (HSR), it represents the latest initiative in Toyota's Partner Robot program and is intended to help out around the home by fetching things, opening curtains, and picking up objects that have fallen to the floor.
The HSR can be controlled using a simple graphical user interface via tablet PC. It can also wear a tablet atop its head, which would allow caregivers and family members to communicate with the robot's owner over Skype or other services. But unlike recent telepresence robots including the recently announced iRobot RP-VITA, the HSR has an arm and gripper for doing the simple tasks we often take for granted.
The robot is able to pick stuff up from the floor or atop tables and high counters thanks to its telescopic body, which gives it a height of 2.7 to 4.3 feet, and an arm length of 2.5 feet. When not in use, the robot's single arm is designed to fold in tightly to reduce its body's overall diameter to just 14.5 inches (an important factor when maneuvering in compact Japanese homes). The robot's arm uses little power and moves slowly to prevent accidents and injuries.
Technical specs are still a bit unclear, but the robot weighs 70 lbs and is capable of holding objects that weigh up to 2.6 lbs with its simple two-fingered gripper. Designed for use indoors, the robot travels at a max speed of 1.8 miles per hour. It can overcome bumps in the floor up to 0.3 inches (enough to traverse from hardwood to carpet) and can climb slopes up to 5 degrees. Although not specifically mentioned in the press release the robot appears to have both a Prosense (Microsoft Kinect) sensor and stereo cameras in its head, which would allow it to sense depth and visually identify people and objects.
Toyota has been testing the HSR with the cooperation of the Yokohama Rehabilitation Center since 2011, with patients providing feedback on the robot's design. The company will be demonstrating the robot to the public from 26- 28 September at Tokyo Big Sight as part of the "bleeding edge development of health care equipment" project. No word on the expected price of the robot (or its battery life), but given that Japanese public health insurance will cover 90% of associated costs (a law designed specifically for robot technology that was passed recently), it seems HSR will have a decent shot at becoming a real consumer product, though it may take another couple of years of development.