It doesn’t seem too long until humanoid robots for the home become as advanced as Sony’s late QRIO, judging by the humanoid robot RoGun from the Korean company KornTech. This impressive robot is one of the latest models from Korea, and needless to say, sports some of the latest of technological innovations in the fields of robotics and A.I. I talked with the company’s marketing director, Lee Jea-Hyun, to provide you with an in-depth article on this new and very impressive humanoid.
For the past few years, robots for the home have been ever increasing in number. Parallel to this increase, people have become more aware of the potential of intelligent machines — such as the usability of iRobot’s infamous Roomba vacuum cleaner. But, robots’ limited capabilities have also become increasingly apparent. Without arms, eyes voices and proper physical embodiment — it’s as difficult for the general public to perceive them as intelligent as it is to actually implement intelligence. This is where humanoid robots come in.
RoGun is one of the latest humanoid models to enter the market in Korea — a country that’s leading edge in robotics and has the impressive, government supported goal of getting a robot in every home by 2020. Developed by a company named KornTech, the 1-meter tall humanoid is designed for home use as a security guard, or a nanny for your kids. Using a combination of various A.I. technologies, RoGun’s capabilities include walking, greeting and shaking hands, clenching his fists, dancing, speaking and singing. Amongst some of RoGun’s A.I. potential, the following features are most prominent:
- Recognition of moving objects
- Posture/gesture recognition
- Environment recognition
- Sound recognition
- Face recognition
It’s obvious that humanoid robots are advancing at an incredible rate — and that it won’t be long until they become very useful and commonplace in our homes. RoGun obviously has an impressive arsenal of intellectual capabilites, and combined with his technical specifications, it’s safe to say that he’s a very impressive robot:
- Onboard 1.2GHz Pentium4 grade computer
- 21cm (7inch) Color LCD Screen
- Wi-Fi, WiMAX, HSDPA and Bluetooth Capabilities
- Power supply: Li-poly Battery or Wire
- Weight: 7.8Kg, Speed: 800m/h
- Sensors: Gyro, Tilt, IR Sensor, Pressure Sensors
Like many other robots debuting in 2007, RoGun possesses WiFi and cellphone/PDA communication capabilities — the obvious advantage for the average owner being that the robot can be controlled through the internet or via phone. With 3G cellphone capabilities, you can connect and get a live feed of what he’s seeing and hearing.
RoGun’s vision and hearing can be relayed via 3G mobile phone
An obvious use of this capability is taking a stroll around your house when your not at home to make sure everything’s in order, or simply to visit your family. RoGun also sports a 21cm (7 inch) color LCD screen on his stomach, for displaying videoplayback, pictures and other media — so he can stream back any video from your phone as well. We can expect that these kinds of capabilities will be prevalent in other robots debuting this year, as they are a (relatively) simple way to increase robots’ potential manifold.
So what is there to control, exactly? Driven by servos, the robot’s head (neck), arm (shoulder, elbow, wrist), hand (grasp) and leg joints (hip, knee, ankle) provide an impressive 26 degrees of freedom! Including the ability to grasp with the pressure of 0.5 Kg. For comparison, the latest HONDA ASIMO has 34 degrees of freedom. As of yet, RoGun moves relatively slowly and non-fluently, as can be expected. A part of this general-slow-motion-problem is that we lack the intelligent software to handle swift motions in uncontrolled environments (without risking the robot accidentally destroying itself or breaking someone’s kneecap). But KornTech have apparently made up for this with a feature that sounds incredible. First of all, RoGun’s joints can hold up to 20Kg! But that’s not the incredible part. I asked Lee Jea-Hyun, marketing director of KornTech, why they’d made him so strong. To my surprise, she responded that RoGun was capable of carrying things around, like bags or other luggage.
To those unfamiliar with A.I. and robotics, carrying objects is not a simple task for humanoids. The robot has to be able to know how to grasp and hold them — all while balancing itself with the additional weight. Unfortunately, Lee Jea-Hyun could not disclose any information on what kind of software they are using for object, face and gesture recognition, only that it was being carried out using CCD cameras. However, in our discussion Lee Jea-hyun disclosed that they were working on a medical-assistant model of RoGun. It’s easy to see how object manipulation could be important for such a model, but my guess — and by all likelyhood — this ability is severely limited. Even the world’s most advanced robots like the HONDA ASIMO can’t grasp and hold any object (yet). RoGun was unveiled very recently and few online videos have surfaced to display his abilites. I remain on the edge of my seat for one that shows RoGun carrying shopping bags. Or a tray of surgical tools, for that matter.
From what I was able to gather from online sources and my discussion with Lee Jea-Hyung, RoGun does not have an artificial personality or autonomy which propels him to attend to tasks on his own initiative, aside from the basic of repertoires. The current version is mainly intended to follow human instructions. Using face-recognition, he can differentiate between family members and, combined with speech recognition, follow their spoken orders (or be controlled by a phone as before-mentioned). Nonetheless, RoGun’s WiFi capabilites will probably include a public interface to communicate with RoGun (thus potentially adding to his intellect via systems integration), as Lee Jea-Hyun told me that RoGun was available for research labs — and that they were interested in technology transfer.
But away from technicalities and onto price realities: How much for this impressive humanoid? It took $1M USD and spread over a period of 1 year to develop RoGun, and KornTech is currently in the beginnings of a production-on-demand phase, a new robot being produced for every received order. This arrangement unfortunately results in the high price of over $100,000 per unit. For many, that means this house-sitting robot costs more than your house. As such the robot is mainly being promoted for companies rather than individuals (for now). But, the company’s CEO Lee Dong-hwan estimates that the prices could drop to around $5000 when mass-production starts, which is a very low price for a robot of RoGun’s caliber. For comparison, Sony’s second generation AIBO cost $1500 when it debuted, and a serious-hobby humanoid robot platform goes for about $1500 today. The price-lowering trend in robotics is quite obvious in this regard, especially considering that hobby platforms usually only include a skeleton and motors — no sensors or software — and that only 5 years ago they were hardly even available to the public.
According to Lee Jea-hyung, mass-production will begin within the next 2-3 years, at which time they’ll possibly be joining government efforts to distribute the robot to Korean homes. Their ultimate goal is to provide RoGun to regular home owners at an affordable price. Until then, RoGun will be under continued development. As for distribution to Europe and America, Lee Jea-hyung says they welcome any proposals during this testing phase (be sure to contact me if you import or acquire this little fellow!).
I conclude this article with many thanks to Lee Jea-Hyun and KornTech, I look forward to more news on RoGun and will be watching his development enthusiastically. Finally, a small video treat. Lee Jea-hyung pointed me to an obscure online video showing RoGun at an home automation fair, dancing to the lovely music of a violinist.
Related Links & References
- All images courtesy of KornTech
- KornTech’s Main Website
- References 1, 2
- Think Artificial’s Home Robot Video Collection
- RoGun early promotion video on YouTube