Information Science and Technology
Making Life Easy with Robot Technologies
Takayuki Tanaka , Associate Professor
Graduate School of Information Science and Technology (Systems Science and Informatics Course, Department of Electronics and Information Engineering, School of Engineering)
High school : Yamaguchi Prefectural Asa High School
Academic background : Doctorate (first semester) from the University of Electro-Communications
- Research areas
- Research keywords
- power-assist robot, field robot, La Classy
What is the motto of your research?
The word “robot” reminds many people of robots featured in cartoons. I am one of those who loved robot cartoons, such as Gundam, in my childhood. It was probably this inspiration drawn from robots that led to my pursuit of becoming a robot researcher. Indeed, we dream of robots and it is fun conducting robot research.
However, simply having fun does not yield useful technologies. Any technology unilaterally forced upon people will not be accepted in society and ends up just being a curiosity. In my laboratory, I always say, “Respect the field.” By listening to first-hand feedback from actual users, we can see what is actually needed, along with discovering the strengths and weaknesses of our technologies. Feedback from the field inspires us to continuously come up with new ideas.
Let’s have fun studying robots that are useful! — This is the motto of my research.
What kinds of robots do you make?
I am engaged in the production of power-assist robots and field robots.
I have developed “Smart Suit,” a wearable power-assist robot (Photo 1). This robot suit provides good hip support when working in a stooped position, such as farming, nursing care, and snow removal. It incorporates a patented technology to produce power by comfortably supporting the hips
Photo 1 “Smart suit,” a wearable power-assist robot
using rubber incorporated in the suit and by adjusting the assistive power with a small motor. Hip support may sound simple, but the required suit shape and control method differ depending on the task performed. We analyze movement, investigate how muscles are used for each task, and develop the optimal suit shape, materials, and control methods to assist in such tasks. We not only carry out experiments in the laboratory, but also make field visits to get feedback from actual users. We receive many critical comments, but it is exhilarating to obtain favorable feedback after making a series of improvements!
|Photo 2 Winery undergrowth mower robot|
The “winery undergrowth mower robot” is a field robot for automatically mowing the undergrowth under grape vines in wineries (Photo 2). It is being developed at the request of Tsurunuma Winery, the largest winery in Japan. It is by no means easy to develop a robot that can quickly and accurately travel across vast, undulating surfaces to mow the undergrowth without damaging the grape vines. Many elemental technologies, including image recognition technology for identifying grape vines from among weeds, manipulation technology for mowing weeds without damaging grape vines, and navigation technology for accurately traveling over irregular ground, along with the technologies to integrate them all are required. Requirements from the field become more demanding each day. It is by successfully meeting such requirements that new technologies are born.
What is your next goal?
I hope robot technologies will become one of the best tools for supporting human life.
Photo 3 With members of the laboratory
Both power-assist robots and field robots are field-oriented robots that deal with humans and nature. My goal is to facilitate the lives of people with the robot technologies we develop under the catchphrase “La Classy.” To make this happen will require an effort that goes beyond the framework of the university. In the Smart Suit Study Group, an industry-academia-government collaboration I have established to put smart suits into practical use, various people, including users, manufacturers, and researchers, exchange opinions in earnest. Students grow more strong-minded as they become trained in robot technologies via this collaboration.
I hope to have many discussions with those in the field, incorporating what I learn into the world of science, and providing useful robots and human expertise to this field.