Toyota has been developing industrial robotics since the 1970s but it wasn't until 2004, with the announcement of its "Partner Robot" project that it started to move from the industrial and into the domestic. The company recently reached a new landmark in the project with the successful completion of the first North American in-home trial of the Human Support Robot (HSR), a bot developed to help people with a disability carry out everyday activities.
Toyota's Partner Robot research covers five projects including a humanoid robot dexterous enough to play the violin and Robina, initially functioning as a tour guide around Toyota facilities before moving into nursing homes as an assistant robot. The most recent project is the Human Support Robot (HSR) introduced in 2012.
The HSR has been explicitly designed to help people with a disability live more independently. The robot is controlled by a tablet interface and can be directed to open doors, fetch things or deliver bottles of water.
Initially tested in Japan, this is the first time Toyota has rolled HSR out into North America. The in-home trial partnered the robot assistant with Romulo (Romy) Camargo, a decorated US war veteran who suffered injuries in Afghanistan leaving him paralyzed from the neck down. Once they were paired up, his robot sidekick got to work helping him get snacks from the pantry and open doors.
"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," says Camargo. describing his first reaction to HSR, "… this research is going to change the world."
Toyota has been ambitiously broadening its operations over recent years, emphatically embracing AI and robotics. On top of the "Partner Robot" research branch, and some daring autonomous concept cars, the company invested US$1 billion in 2016 towards establishing a new research and development center solely dedicated to work in robotic artificial intelligence.
The HSR project and increasing investment in mobility aids and robotic solutions continues to compellingly reframe Toyota as a company interested in every aspect of mobility, not just automobiles.
Take a look at HSR helping Romy in the video below.