Robotics

Japanese rail company rolls out VR-piloted Gundam robot worker

Japanese rail company rolls ou...
JR West's new humanoid heavy equipment robot is designed to increase productivity while keeping workers out of harm's way
JR West's new humanoid heavy equipment robot is designed to increase productivity while keeping workers out of harm's way
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JR West's new humanoid heavy equipment robot is designed to increase productivity while keeping workers out of harm's way
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JR West's new humanoid heavy equipment robot is designed to increase productivity while keeping workers out of harm's way
Left: the robot lifts a steel brace. Right: through the operator's eyes.
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Left: the robot lifts a steel brace. Right: through the operator's eyes.
The pilot moves a pair of handles to control the robot's arms and hands, and these handles also deliver force feedback to the pilot when external forces move the robot's arms, or prevent them from moving
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The pilot moves a pair of handles to control the robot's arms and hands, and these handles also deliver force feedback to the pilot when external forces move the robot's arms, or prevent them from moving
The robot's Wall-E-style head feeds stereo vision back to the pilot through a VR helmet, and it follows the pilot's head movements
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The robot's Wall-E-style head feeds stereo vision back to the pilot through a VR helmet, and it follows the pilot's head movements
The robot is mounted on a rail maintenance car
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The robot is mounted on a rail maintenance car
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The West Japan Rail Company has released video of its new humanoid heavy equipment robot. Mounted on the end of a crane, this gundam-style robot torso mimics the arm and head motions of a human pilot, who sees through the robot's eyes via VR goggles.

The key objectives here, according to the company, are "to improve productivity and safety," enabling workers to lift and naturally manipulate heavy equipment around the rail system without exposing them to the risk of electric shocks or falling.

The robot's large torso is mounted to a hydraulic crane arm, which rides around the rail system on a specially braced rail car, putting down stabilizing legs when it's time to get to work.

A human pilot puts on a set of VR goggles, which are motion-tracked to control the movements of a Wall-E-style head with stereo vision. Gripping a pair of handles, the pilot is able to move the robot's arms and hands – and if an external force like a weight moves the robot's arms, this motion is reflected back to the pilot's controls.

The robot is mounted on a rail maintenance car
The robot is mounted on a rail maintenance car

A video released on Twitter shows the robot lifting and positioning some reasonably sizeable components, as well as cleaning overhead rail structures with a special multi-angle brush. It grips all these tools in what look like relatively simple clamp-like "hands," showing a reasonable degree of dexterity, albeit operating at a fairly slow speed.

The pilot moves a pair of handles to control the robot's arms and hands, and these handles also deliver force feedback to the pilot when external forces move the robot's arms, or prevent them from moving
The pilot moves a pair of handles to control the robot's arms and hands, and these handles also deliver force feedback to the pilot when external forces move the robot's arms, or prevent them from moving

Typically, any attempt to make a robot look humanoid would make us think it probably doesn't work as well as it could if it didn't look humanoid. But in this case, it makes sense: the pilot can quickly gain a kinetic feel for operating the robot, since its arms and head are in familiar places relative to one another.

JR West is developing this machine in partnership with Human Machinery co. and Nippon Signal co. We can't divine what's next for this broad-shouldered beast from the press release, but you can enjoy the video below.

Source: JR West

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Very cool.