Research Team Develops Humanoid Construction Robot
Emily Pollock posted on October 10, 2018 |
HRP-5P in its resting position (left), and lifting a sheet of drywall (right). (Image courtesy of AIST.)
HRP-5P in its resting position (left), and lifting a sheet of drywall (right). (Image courtesy of AIST.)

Japan's National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) has developed a robot it says is "capable of the same hard work as human being," including construction tasks like hanging drywall.

AIST's latest creation, the prototype HRP-5P, is a humanoid robot built to work on construction sites. Many robots struggle to function in the chaotic and uneven territory of a typical construction site, so the team behind the HRP series of robots modeled them after humans, which have no trouble walking over unsteady ground. HRP-5P stands 182cm (72in.) tall, and weighs 101kg (223lbs) Many of the robot’s parts have more degrees of freedom than the corresponding parts in humans (i.e., its arms have 8 DOF, as opposed to the human 7) to allow it to handle large and complex objects. A complex head sensor gives the robot a 3D picture of its surrounding environment, and it's capable of recognizing 10 different kinds of object regions of two-dimensional images.

The research team tested HRP-5P on a simulated construction site to see if it could handle relatively complex work like hanging drywall. To complete the task, HRP-5P would have to work through a series of smaller tasks, starting with map creation and object detection of the surrounding environment. From there, the robot would have to pick up a heavy gypsum board, transport it to the area in need of drywall, and hold the board to the wall with one hand while using the necessary tool with the other. The organization released a video of HRP-5P performing all those tasks handily (albeit more slowly than the typical construction worker).

The new robot is only the latest in a line of predecessors. HRP-1 was capable of walking, and HRP-2 added the ability to stand up. HRP-3 was capable of walking on a slippery road surface, as well as fastening a bolt via remote-controlled instructions. HRP-4C and HRP-4 were more focused on entertainment functions, and were capable of singing via a synthetic voice. HRP-5P has other predecessors and contemporaries in the construction industry, from 3D-printing robots that chart a course around construction sites to Construction Robotics' Semi-Automated Mason, a bricklaying robot.

The research team hopes that HRP-5P could compensate for Japan's declining birthrate, and free human workers from dangerous or difficult jobs. “It is expected that many industries such as the construction industry will fall into serious manual shortages in the future, and it is urgent to solve this problem by robot technology,” the company writes in its press release. “Also, at work sites assembling very large structures such as building sites and assembling of aircraft / ships, workers are carrying out dangerous heavy work, and it is desired to replace these tasks with robot technology." The company envisions HRP-5P serving as a springboard for "industry-academia collaboration," prompting research from both the public and the private sectors.

HRP-5P will be on display at Tokyo's World Robot Expo 2018 from October 17-21.

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