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2009. VOL.64 NO.1

  Special Reports

Improving the Robustness of Robot Technology

Potential of Robot Technology
HIRAI Shigeoki

Robot Technologies Aiming for Coexistence with Social Environment
Since the exhibition of prototype robots at the Aichi Expo in 2005, service robots have been further developed and have gradually been realized as commercial products. The basic infrastructure for robot development has been established over the past five years, such as basic common technologies, network-robot technologies, and an intelligently structured environment for the acceleration of robot development. Due to the increasing number of field experiments in public areas, robots are required to have more reliability and robustness. Concrete discussions are also taking place on issues related to social systems and safety when robots are applied.
With these trends as a background, Toshiba has been developing robot technologies and systems with an emphasis on human safety and robustness toward the surrounding environment.

Intelligent Spatial Robotics and Its New Industrial Application Markets
SATO Tomomasa
Various robot systems embodying an intelligent spatial approach have been constructed so far, such as a robotic room and an object access assistance system, both utilizing spatial functionality; and an abnormality detection system taking advantage of the feature of low interference in daily life activities. This research field, referred to as spatially intelligent robotics, makes full use of the features of spatial systems and distributed systems.
Regarding future industrial applications of such systems, the near-future market will be formed not only by robot technology (RT)-embedded products such as intelligent home spaces and automobile spaces, but also convenient service areas into which robots and robot infrastructure are introduced for value-added purposes. The far-future application market will be realized by platform robots on which a variety of robot services can be integrated utilizing various robots and robot components.
In addition, the features of distributed systems will enable such systems to cover a wide range of human activity the home, the car, the workplace, and common spaces.thereby expanding the use of robots throughout society.

Robot Manipulation Technology Using Environment and Manipulation Frameworks
YOSHIMI Takashi / KATSUKI Rie / OGA Jun’ichiro
The new concept of structuralizing a robot’s working environment has recently been introduced to realize human-symbiotic robots that support daily life. The aim of this concept is to assist robots’ activities by modifying the living environment and constructing a suitable environment framework for them. Moreover, the function of supplying information about the environment is implemented in the robot’s working environment in order to facilitate manipulation of the robot system.
In addition to the development of an environment framework, Toshiba has been developing a manipulation framework that works under a structuralized environment and has a common structure of robot software. These environment and manipulation framework technologies are expected to realize common information and software for many robot systems, enabling them to work for different robots in different environments.

Robust Movement Control Adaptive to Surrounding Environment on Autonomous Robot
SONOURA Takafumi / TOKURA Seiji / TASAKI Tsuyoshi
In the aging society with fewer children, it is anticipated that robots will play the role of supporting people and acting on their behalf. It is not easy, however, for robots to move around in the constantly changing human living environment. In environments where they coexist with people, robots are expected to be able to reach their destination by adapting to variations in the environment without the need to make any adjustment to the surroundings.
Toshiba has developed a route-generating method that enables a robot to occasionally modify its trajectory, a collision-avoidance method based on a reflex movement rule, and a self-localization method utilizing camera image processing. Stable movement of a robot has been confirmed under an experimental environment resembling the situation of coexisting with people.

Tactile Sensing Technologies for Dexterous Robots

Cell production systems for multi-item, small-lot production have been attracting attention in recent years, leading to demand for new robots that can be applied to such systems. There are also expectations for the use of robots in stores, various facilities, and homes in addition to factories. These applications require the capability to grasp a variety of tilted or inverse objects with one hand. Detection of the proper contact position and posture between the object and hand is necessary for this purpose.
Toshiba has developed novel tactile sensors that can cover the entire fingertip areas of a robot to meet this requirement. Dexterous handling operations by robot have been achieved using these sensors, such as picking up a toothpick on a tilted dish and picking up one dish out of a stack. Obstacle detection by robot fingers can also be accomplished with the sensors.

Interface Robot to Connect Users to Home Appliances

YAMAMOTO Daisuke / DOI Miwako
With the dissemination of information appliances in recent years, demand has arisen for an interface that allows users to easily operate such equipment by voice instructions. However, erroneous recognition still occurs in conventional speech recognition technology, and to achieve accurate speech recognition it is necessary for users to register selected terms in advance.
To overcome this problem, Toshiba has developed a new voice instruction learning method with the innovative feature of incorporating familiar infant behaviors. This method was installed in an interface robot and evaluated. The results of experiments demonstrated that users accept cases of incorrect recognition and that operations by voice instructions from users are useful, especially when the user is elderly.

Network Robot Systems Promoting New Businesses

DOI Miwako / YAMAMOTO Daisuke / HAGITA Norihiro
A network robot system is a combination of ubiquitous network technology and robot technology. Network robots are defined as having the following characteristics: autonomous capabilities, network-based cooperation, environment sensors and actuators, and human-robot interaction. The concept of network robot systems was born in Japan, and now many related projects are being implemented throughout the world.
Toshiba has been verifying the feasibility of network robot systems with substantiative experiments.

DynagentTM Planning Agent to Realize Flexible Robot Control

Given the current situation and a goal, a planner formulates a sequence of actions (namely, a plan) to achieve that goal. However, agents working in the real world are not always able to execute an initial plan.
Toshiba has developed an intelligent agent called DynagentTM. While executing a plan, DynagentTM monitors the external world and modifies the plan when the situation unexpectedly changes. By installing DynagentTM on a robot, we are aiming to realize intelligent robots that can flexibly execute plans in the real world.

Robot Vision Technology for Target Recognition

It is necessary for robots to be able to recognize the relative positions and postures of target objects, in order to offer various types of services in complex environments such as homes and offices where humans are acting. When visual information is used, it should be robust against changes in the appearance of objects. On the other hand, it is also necessary for robot vision to be able to estimate the posture of objects from changes in an object’s appearance.
To meet these requirements, Toshiba has developed a robot vision algorithm for planar landmark detection that is robust against changes in distance, and for dish detection without dependence on the direction.

Actuator Technologies to Realize Various Motions in Mechatronic Systems

AKIBA Toshikatsu / TAKAHASHI Hiroshi / TOYA Kiminori
Next-generation mechatronic systems are expected to have various motions for working with humans or performing complex processes. To realize such systems, the actuators in the systems need to have new functions and features such as adaptability to human behavior, very small structure, and actuation with multiple degrees of freedom.
To meet these requirements, Toshiba has developed three applications using new actuators. These are a surveillance camera equipped with a spherical piezoelectric actuator that can drive the camera with motion having three degrees of freedom (3DOF), a power-assisted glove system that adapts to human movement using flexible rubber actuators, and a zoom camera system using a dual-drive actuator that can drive two moving sliders with a simple structure by electrostatic pulling force.

Transfer Robot Aimed at Use in Retail Stores

SANO Masahito / TAKANOSE Tsuyoshi / NUMATA Akiko
A variety of service robots operating in human-robot coexistence environments have been developed in recent years. However, safe autonomous mobile technology in environments where many people are moving freely has not yet been established.
Toshiba TEC Corporation, in cooperation with Toshiba and the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST), has been participating in the Project for Strategic Development of Advanced Robotics Elemental Technologies being implemented by the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO). In this project, we have been developing a shopping cart for carrying loads and moving safely in a retail store. Toshiba TEC Corporation has manufactured an experimental transfer robot featuring a sensing system and structure that have been carefully designed to match the store environment. As a result of this development, we are making efforts to offer many leading-edge applications of transfer robots in stores.

Robot and Control Technology for Cell Production

KATO Kenji / NISHIHARA Yasunori / OGA Jun'ichiro / OAKI Junji
Users’ requirements for products have become diversified in recent years due to economic maturation, and the cell production method, which facilitates high-product-mix and low-volume manufacturing, has been spreading. The cell production process requires multiskilled workers possessing a wide variety of skills that enable them to participate in various work processes. However, the lack of such multiskilled workers is leading to increasing demand for automation. The development of technologies to realize intelligent robots is therefore essential in order for robots to act as multiskilled workers in a cell production line. In addition, the support responsibilities of robot manufacturers have become increasingly important.
With this as a background, Toshiba Machine Co., Ltd. has developed a robot and control technology for cell production.

General-Purpose Multijoint Manipulator and Algorithm for Automatically Generating Motion Trajectories

With the increasing number of aged nuclear power plants in recent years, the shortening of safety inspection and maintenance periods has become necessary to improve operational efficiency.
Toshiba has developed a general-purpose multijoint manipulator that can be used underwater and in radiation environments. In addition, we have developed an algorithm to automatically generate motion trajectories of the manipulator so as to avoid collisions with other structures in its surroundings. This system can realize shorter preparation and operation periods for maintenance work in nuclear reactor vessels. We are planning to apply this system as a remote handling device for nuclear plants, reprocessing facilities, and nuclear fusion experimental reactors.

Automatic Pipe Welding System Utilizing Robot Technology

OGAWARA Takashi / HORIKIRI Yukio / OE Takeshi
Advanced pipe welding skills are required for the welding of various types of pipes used in plants with different diameters, thicknesses, and materials. However, since the number of skilled welding engineers has been decreasing in recent years, there is an increasing need for an automatic welding machine for such applications that is small and lightweight but can perform high-quality work.
In response to these circumstances, Toshiba Plant Systems & Services Corporation has developed an automatic pipe welding system. This system incorporates image sensor technology utilized in the field of robotics for welding groove detection. We have verified the precision of welding torch movement in large-diameter pipe welding using this system.

  Feature Articles

ArrayFortTM Series Disk Storage Systems Featuring Storage Virtualization Technologies for Effective Operation
SATO Shinichi / TOMONAGA Kazusa
Demand has been growing recently for improvements in the operational efficiency of storage systems due to the increasing amounts of databeing generated to support compliance requirements.
Toshiba Solutions Corporation has developed the ArrayFortTM series, a new lineup of disk storage systems featuring new functionalities to realize effective operation and power saving. The ArrayFortTM series employs two virtualization technologies, the“ storage pool feature” and the“ capacity provisioning feature,” which enable the storage system to operate in such a way that the actual physical capacity required is smaller than the logical volume capacity.

  Frontiers of Research & Development

Preference Learning Technology for Hard Disk Recorder

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