Robot Laborer Could Do the Risky and Tiring Work of Human Laborers

Humanoid-shaped robot can already take on simple construction jobs.

(Image courtesy of AIST.)

(Image courtesy of AIST.)

A Japanese technology incubator has developed a humanoid robot that could take on the often dangerous and backbreaking work performed by some humans today.

The National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) recently introduced HRP-5P, a robot intended to autonomously perform heavy labor or work in hazardous environments—easing the strain and danger of some lines of work now performed by laborers.

Standing at nearly 6 feet and weighing over 220 pounds, the humanoid robot incorporates new hardware technologies into AIST’s HRP technology platform. It can perform environmental measurement and object recognition, full-body motion planning and control, task description and execution management, as well as systematize its tasks. Using head-mounted sensors, the robot takes 3D measurements of the surrounding environment—and it draws on its own memory to navigate if the field of view is blocked by objects or if its feet slip. To emulate—and surpass—human movement, the researchers gave the robot enhanced freedom of movement of the waist, arms, legs and hands, totaling 37 degrees of freedom.

The HRP-5P recently performed a demonstration of its capabilities, installing drywall.

HRP-5P Humanoid Robot installs drywall.

A robot laborer is an appealing substitute to a human worker—not only for the safety of the human but also for the bottom line of construction and heavy industry companies. But unless robots are factored in at the design stage of the work environment, it is difficult and costly to remake large-scale work sites suitable for robots. This has discouraged the use of robots in those settings. The HRP-5P’s humanoid form would make it much easier to introduce the robot at existing sites, where it could operate in work areas already designed for human use.

The robot is the latest iteration of AIST’s HRP technology platform. The HRP-2 could walk and lie down, the HRP-3 performed simple tasks while the HRP-4C could interact more with humans—including busting a dance move. But none of those could take on heavy labor the way AIST’s latest robot can.

The new HRP-5P was developed partly to respond to Japan’s labor shortage—the country has an aging population and a declining birth rate.

And the HRP-5P isn’t just a manual labor bot—it also functions as an R&D platform for industry and academia to work together to develop practical applications of humanoid robots in a variety of industrial fields.

AIST has high hopes for its latest robot. “This will compensate for labor shortages, free people from heavy labor, and help them focus on more high-value-added work,” the organization predicts.

Want to read more about advanced manufacturing technologies in construction? Check out “Robotic Toolbox” Helps Bring 3D Printing to Construction Sites.