Honda robot crawls like a gorilla over rubble

Honda unveils E2-DR, its first humanoid disaster-relief robot

Image credit: Honda R&D

Following the success of its dancing, football-playing Asimo robot, Honda has now presented a prototype disaster-relief robot capable of navigating through dangerous, complex environments.

Asimo, first presented in 2000, is a humanoid robot with the appearance of a small astronaut. Described as the “world’s most advanced humanoid robot” by Honda, it is capable of running, dancing, playing sports, responding to gesture and commands and recognising faces. Despite its popular appeal and ground-breaking abilities - such as the ability to run - Asimo is not an exceptionally ‘useful’ robot.

Now, at the International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems 2017 in Vancouver, Honda has presented a robot prototype which builds on Asimo’s capabilities, developing its range of motion for disaster response. Honda first suggested the concept of a disaster response robot in an R&D paper presented in 2015.

The robot is named E2-DR, a possible nod to the famous R2-D2 droid from the Star Wars film franchise. E2-DR is humanoid, although taller, heavier, tougher and less well-polished in appearance than Asimo.

E2-DR is designed to act as a rescuer in a range of situations deemed too dangerous for human rescuers, such as in zones with high background radiation (e.g. in the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster) or in a badly damaged, structurally unsound building.

Autonomous robots of all shapes and sizes are under development for disaster response: A “cockroach” shaped robot capable of squeezing through small gaps has been designed to find trapped victims under rubble, while swimming and wriggling robots could aid disaster response in the event of a nuclear meltdown. However, E2-DR is the first to take a humanoid form.

E2-DR is 1.68m tall and weighs 85kg. It can walk upright at up to 4.3km/h, crawl on all fours like a gorilla at up to 2km/h and climb steps and ladders.

Demonstration of range of robotic motion

Honda R&D

Image credit: Honda R&D

It is equipped with a range of sensors to navigate its potentially dangerous environments, including three LED-equipped cameras, rotating laser rangefinders, infrared projectors and 3D cameras embedded in its hand. These sensors allow the robot to cope with tricky terrains and obstacles, stepping over pipes and crawling through debris.

By switching out standard communication cables for optical fibre cables, Honda engineers managed to reduce the thickness of the robot to just 25cm. By rotating its body parts, it can squeeze through tight gaps, such as in blocked corridors, of just 30cm.

According to Honda, it can endure heavy rain for 20 minutes and is also dustproof. Its 1,000Wh lithium-ion battery allows it to operate for 90 minutes on a single charge.

At present, E2-DR is just a prototype and Honda has not revealed how long it will take for such a disaster response robot to reach the market. The company intends to add additional features, as well as refine existing ones. It will be taught to handle specific threats, such as impacts and collisions in its environment and could be tested for coping with falls.

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