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Saturday, March 14, 2009

Robot of the Day: Murata Boy, the Robo Bicyclist

His name is Murata Boy, and it's hard to believe that he can ride a bicycle better than any person or any other robot. It is equally hard to believe that this robo-bicyclist robot has been out there for five years.

The Murata Boy robot only came to existence because the Japanese company Murata Manufacturing wanted to show off some of their various sensors technologies, hence the name. The robot made his first debut at CEATEC (Combined Exhibition of Advanced Technologies) Japan 2005 and people immediately fell in love with this little adept robot who can ride a bicycle like no robots before.

The Murata Boy is only 2-foot tall, which means he can only ride the tiny bicycle custom-built for him. The robot is equipped with four types of sensors: two gyro sensors used to detect angular velocity and inclination; an ultrasonic sensor to detect obstacles; and a shock sensor to detect rough surfaces (you can see more detailed specifications at the project web page here). With wireless network connection to a PC, the robot can follow remote commands such as forward, stop, and reverse. It can also follow pre-programmed paths. The robot can reach maximum speed of 30 inches per second and can even balance while at a complete stop. The robot's sensors work so well that the robot can even ride on a very thin balance beam as show in the video below (toward the end of the video).

Ever since its first debut in 2005, the robot has become very popular at technology exhibitions. And throughout the years, it also had to take on additional challenges with the help of the team of developers. The newly acquired skills include ones such as riding on an S-shaped beam and going uphill on a quite steep slope. Such tasks might sound easy, but requires precise sensor measurements and very accurate motor control. The end result, a very amazed crowd whenever the robot goes. (Change the video resolution to 480 for the two videos below for better viewing experience.)

Murata Boy riding and balancing on an S-Shaped beam

Murata Boy riding uphill

Although the robot is not capable of complex autonomous behaviors (not something Murata Manufacturing wants to show off), it certainly gives a good demonstration of what the sensors are capable of. Once we can develop advanced intelligence to combine with the wonderful engineering feats, who knows, maybe once day we'll see robots throwing morning newspapers at your doors. That is, of course, after the robot is equipped with dog-repelling (or evading) mechanisms. But anyhow, respect to the engineering team behind the Murata Boy!

The team of engineers at Murata Manufacturing who developed the Murata Boy robot
It's worth mentioning that some people opted to turn real bikes directly into robots. For example, the first video below shows the effect of some Japanese inventors working on a noodle-delivering unmanned bike. And the second video shows a Vietnamese attempt. Just imagine a fleet of unmanned bikes on the streets of Beijing, China, taking people to their work! What an amazing scene that would be! Here in the US, however, an unmanned bike is likely to end up an exercise equipment so the robotic bike will do the exercise so the lazy fat human won't have to do it. LOL!

Video of the Day:

Vuvuzela Concerto in Bb. If you click the video to open it in YouTube, you can also click the soccer button in the lower right corner to make it a real concerto!! And here's the music score that goes with it.