Robotics

Kawasaki presents the pinnacles of its robot developments at iREX 2022

Kawasaki presents the pinnacle...
A Kawasaki team member rides "BEX," the robot quadruped, at iREX 2022
A Kawasaki team member rides "BEX," the robot quadruped, at iREX 2022
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A Kawasaki team member rides "BEX," the robot quadruped, at iREX 2022
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A Kawasaki team member rides "BEX," the robot quadruped, at iREX 2022
Noboru Takagi, Executive Officer General Manager of Robot Division, Precision Machinery and Robot Company, Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Ltd. with some robots.
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Noboru Takagi, Executive Officer General Manager of Robot Division, Precision Machinery and Robot Company, Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Ltd. with some robots.
"BEX" will eventually cover uneven ground, carrying up to 100 kg
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"BEX" will eventually cover uneven ground, carrying up to 100 kg
Friends is Kawasaki's latest humanoid platform, smaller and designed to be safe in interaction with humans
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Friends is Kawasaki's latest humanoid platform, smaller and designed to be safe in interaction with humans
Friends is capable of motion-captured dance moves, and pushing wheelchairs
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Friends is capable of motion-captured dance moves, and pushing wheelchairs
Eyyyy, how YOU doin'?
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Eyyyy, how YOU doin'?
Robust Humanoid Platform Kaleido can now walk at 4 km/h (2.5 mph) and balance on a beam
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Robust Humanoid Platform Kaleido can now walk at 4 km/h (2.5 mph) and balance on a beam
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Kawasaki Heavy Industries has plenty of experience mass-producing industrial robots, and now we get to see some of its early progress into service robots, multi-purpose humanoids, and, for some reason, a very silly-looking ride-on robot ibex.

While the brand is known mainly as a motorcycle company in the West, Kawasaki is a 125-year old multidisciplinary, multinational powerhouse pulling in some US$15 billion of revenues in 2020 across the aerospace, rail, shipbuilding, energy, industrial, environmental and infrastructure segments, among others.

But at iREX 2022, Tokyo's International Robot Exhibition, the company showed its softer, stranger side. Kawasaki has had a team working on a "Robust Humanoid Platform" called Kaleido since 2015, a tall, broad-shouldered beast of a fellow weighing 80 kg (176 lb), designed eventually to sub in for humans in manual labor situations.

Robust Humanoid Platform Kaleido can now walk at 4 km/h (2.5 mph) and balance on a beam
Robust Humanoid Platform Kaleido can now walk at 4 km/h (2.5 mph) and balance on a beam

The team presented the 7th generation of Kaleido at iREX, with Kawasaki's Robot Division general manager Noboru Takagi proclaiming, "It is now possible to do actual work in a work site with a combination of autonomous operation and remote control," and, "the practical application of this is only one step away."

But it doesn't seem like Boston Dynamics needs to be looking over its shoulder too much at this point. Kaleido stepped out for its demonstration slot with two human team members holding tether ropes, and proceeded to bust a couple of stilted dance moves before stepping up onto a balance beam, stepping down off the other end, pausing for applause, then turning around, walking back across the beam, and waving goodbye. This took a painful eight minutes. Watch some video, if you've got a lot of time on your hands. When you're done with that, check this out.

A subsequent demonstration lifted Kaleido up into the air on tethers, accompanied by a high-energy, eight-minute extended version of Bon Jovi's It's My Life. Thus dangled, he demonstrated his ability to grab metal bars, beat them with his fists, and crack out a very swaggy, if extremely slow, thumbs-up for the ladies.

Eyyyy, how YOU doin'?
Eyyyy, how YOU doin'?

The company then introduced a smaller, 55-kg (120-lb) robot it's calling "Friends." Friends is derived from Kaleido, but it's designed to be safe for working and interacting with humans. Kawasaki sees this as the kind of robot people might end up living with – particularly older people, as Japan's rapidly aging population is expected to face growing isolation and unmet needs for assistance with personal care.

Friends is Kawasaki's latest humanoid platform, smaller and designed to be safe in interaction with humans
Friends is Kawasaki's latest humanoid platform, smaller and designed to be safe in interaction with humans

Friends had two stage appearances, one in which it did a bit of gentle motion-captured dancing, and another in which it pushed an extremely patient, wobbly-headed grandma dummy around in a wheelchair. In four minutes, it managed to advance around five meters, then turn around, pausing apparently to kiss granny on the head, and push her back out the gate.

But the star of Kawasaki's iREX demonstrations by far was RHP BEX, the company's first quadruped. Eventually, BEX will handle rough terrain, says Kawasaki, carrying loads up to 100 kg (220 lb) on its back and performing a range of inspection tasks and carrying things around in agricultural settings.

"BEX" will eventually cover uneven ground, carrying up to 100 kg
"BEX" will eventually cover uneven ground, carrying up to 100 kg

To demonstrate its capabilities, BEX inched its way to the front of the demo area on foot then squatted down and rolled around a bit on some wheels, stopping to allow a team member to hop on board and grab a pair of handlebars sprouting from its neck. Possibly the slowest and shakiest Kawasaki joyride in history ensues.

We embed a video below from one Kazumichi Moriyama, who has the patience of a saint and was covering the event for PC Watch. Clearly, these are still relatively early-stage efforts for Kawasaki, in a notoriously difficult field, but these kinds of presentations do little to cement this storied company as a serious competitor in this space.

川崎重工 「RHP Bex」人が乗る #2022国際ロボット展 #irex2022

Source: Kawasaki

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8 comments
8 comments
Daishi
In a world where technology evolves fast they have made no real progress over what the Honda ASIMO could do 36 years ago (it began development in 1986). Boston Dynamics was founded in 1992 (30 years ago) and their biped robot while pretty advanced is used almost exclusively just for creating youtube videos and marketing. At this pace of progress this is pretty much where we will be in 30 more years. People sometimes dismiss my opinions but this is a pretty solid sign you have the wrong approach to the problem you are trying to solve.
ljaques
The new Bex Llamabot screams forward at almost 1km/hr speeds, taking gigantic 10cm steps! Um, what was the point of this thing, again? (Kaw backs away, with a towel covering the company head)
anthony88
@Dishi makes a good point. I was recently comparing the development steps of human flight to a wave energy company I'm invested in, which is on a path similar to the development of robots. If powered flight had followed the same development steps as robots and wave energy, we'd still not have mass-travel airlines and tourism because an airliner manufacturer somewhere would still be waiting for regulatory approval or an engineer would be told to not release anything for testing until it was absolutely perfect so that any glitch didn't lead to embarrassment in the press or with shareholders. The auto industry starting out in an environment like today's wouldn't get a car on the road for another 50 years. We just need to take a gamble, get these things out there, and watch the development that happens through learning from real-time use. As long as the devices have a big red button on them like the Kawasaki Ibex, there shouldn't be too many robot stampedes.
see3d
The problem with development speed is the need for a brain. Progress would be faster if it were just an avatar. The body is willing but the mind is weak. Robots will become useful general-purpose helpers when they pass the AI threshold to think like a human+.
HoppyHopkins
When they get that robot horse fully self contained and as fast as a horse, I may be interested. But the power source must be capable of at least 48 hour endurance and preferably a micro nuclear power source good for 5-20 years
Dan Lewis
We seem to be much in agreement regarding Kawasaki's first quadraped.
We expected a much more sure-footed vehicle that could not be tripped up by a pedestrian or rider.
We're expecting Version 7 to be able to swing from the chandelier, hail taxis, and fold itself up for the taxi trunk.
Daishi
@see3d When we "pass the AI threshold to think like a human+" they will be quick to laugh at us for still trying to build robots that rely on biped legs as a primary form of transportation. Almost 4 decades and billions in development by some of the brightest minds in the world and it still can't outperform a fish on a bicycle.
Bret Douglass
You could create a 6-legged ridable animal with a simpler balance option (tripods all the time!) but I guess riding a giant robotic insect is... less fun than a robotic llama?