Jamie Morton

Jamie Morton is science reporter at the NZ Herald.

He can't dance but he's fit to print

Robot first of its kind in NZ and the plans are free online.

InMoov is a life-sized humanoid robot whose parts can be 3D-printed.
InMoov is a life-sized humanoid robot whose parts can be 3D-printed.

Meet InMoov. This C-3PO-like humanoid robot won't be able to boogie down, beat you at chess, or even fetch a cup of tea, but it's special for another reason.

It's the first humanoid robot 3D-printed in New Zealand.

Each component of the life-sized robot was downloaded as open-access hardware, and then printed by researchers at the University of Canterbury's Human Interface Technology Lab (HITLab).

"We've never done anything like this on this scale so it's something new and also very exciting," said Dr Christoph Bartneck, a robot expert at the lab.

The creation of French sculptor and model-maker Gael Langevin, the robot can be replicated on any 3D printer, opening up the world of robots to DIY hobbyists.

"Because it's an open-hardware project, it means that all of the blueprints and plans are available online - anyone can download the file and start printing it - and once you've done that you can make your own robot at quite a sophisticated level."

While it has only a torso, head and arms, it can talk, move in complex ways, grasp objects, recognise voices and has several in-built cameras.

InMoov, which aside from other parts costs about $1200 to assemble, is among a growing number of 3D-printable humanoids whirring into the global robot market.

Dr Bartneck said while InMoov's motors could be controlled to move and behave in certain ways, its brain was still empty.

"Hardware is not really the problem anymore - we can build robots reasonably well to do what we want them to do - but the main challenge we have now is the mind of the robot.

"How can it think, how can it be smart, and how can it act in the world?"

As robot engineers grappled with this hurdle, HITLab would be using InMoov as a resource platform for human behavioural studies.

"We have several robots in the lab of various shapes and sizes, but were interested in getting our hands on a life-sized robot."

People responded warmly to smaller, cuter robots, he said, "but once you scale up and have something as tall and maybe as powerful as you, then the way you interact may be more cautious".

"When you interact with humans, the natural tendency is to reciprocate the behaviour. Our question is, how would something like that work with robots?"

Another point of interest was what impacts robots might have on our language in the robot age.

"There are now more phones than humans on the planet, and most of these devices will become voice-enabled, so you can talk to them and they will talk back to you," said Dr Bartneck.

"The same thing will apply with robots - there will be more of them than us - and the question is, wouldn't they have considerable influence in the use and development of our own language?"

Watch a time-lapse video of InMoov being built at University of Canterbury's Human Interface Technology Lab here:

Robot projects will help aged

A suit to assist walking and a robotic arm to open hard-to-reach cupboard doors have been picked by the Government as robot research projects to help the elderly.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment is today expected to announce a three-year, $150,000 investment in the two collaborations between New Zealand and Japanese robotics researchers.

One project led by Callaghan Innovation, the University of Auckland's Bioengineering Institute and Shinshu University, will investigate a walking suit to help the elderly with mobility.

The other project, involving the University of Auckland's Robotics Research Group, the University of Canterbury and three Japanese institutes, will focus on a lightweight robotic arm.

Dr Bruce MacDonald, director of the research group, said the arm was still in a concept stage, and a workshop with health sector representatives was scheduled for later in the year.

Robots have been trialled in Auckland and are serving as faithful companions to elderly patients in Gore, especially those needing long-term chronic care. Among other tasks, the healthbots check blood pressure and heart rate and send data to clinicians and caregivers.

- NZ Herald

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