It’s been a few years since Japan’s AIST updated its HRP humanoid robot line. While the last iteration, HRP-4C, strove to make the robot seem as human as possible with a realistic female head, the new industrial-looking HRP-5P looks as though it escaped the factory before its bodywork was finished. It isn’t pretty, but the "skills" section of its resume already looks impressive.
Watching video of HRP-5P in action might seem familiar, and that’s probably because Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology has apparently taken some design inspiration from Boston Dynamic’s ATLAS, which sports a similarly minimal framework that leaves all of its sensors, motors and electronics exposed.
But the creators of HRP-5P and ATLAS didn’t take this approach because exposed motors is en vogue when it comes to robot design.
The autonomous functionality that allows this robot to walk over to a table, pick up a piece of plasterboard, and screw it to the wall relies on a variety of different sensors located all over its body to visualise its surroundings, obstacles, and objects its hands need to interact with. Hiding them behind body panels would presumably reduce their effectiveness.
A fancy outer housing would also add weight to the robot. In its current design, HRP-5P comes in at about 101kg. That isn’t light by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s light enough to work in environments designed for humans to navigate without special accommodations needed for the robot’s weight.
In recent years, robotics engineers and researchers have managed to finally cut the cord with their creations. Even just a few years back, two-legged robots such as HRP-5P and ATLAS required a thick cable at all times to provide a constant connection to a computer, as well as power.
But a lighter robot generates less of a strain on its motors, which in turn require less power to operate. As a result, humanoid robots such as HRP-5P and ATLAS can now run on batteries they carry themselves, greatly improving their mobility, range of motions, and freedom.
As far as smart home robots go, I would gladly trade my Roomba for a robot like this that could finally refinish my basement.