Meet Meka Robotics’ M1: It’s mobile, it has dextrous arms, smart software, uses modified Microsoft Kinect sensors, and could one day steal your job.
According to San Francisco-based Meka, the bot is specifically designed to work with and around humans, and has relevant smarts in mobility, dextrous manipulation, and “compliant force-control” (in other words, it won’t accidentally rip you limb from limb if you get in its way while its working). You can see this in his design–M1 looks approximately human from the torso up, has a head with two eyes to make it approachable to people, and has an adjustable height upper body so he can work at roughly the equivalent heights to a sitting or standing human.
Instead of trying to copy the tricky task of bipedal locomotion like Asimo or HRP4c does, M1 has a simple motorized wheel base, which limits its mobility somewhat, but also means it’s likely to enter the workplace sooner than a walking bot will–we already tolerate self-propelled wheeled robots in many work environments around the globe. And instead of exclusively building in sophisticated, expensive home-brew vision and optical sensing systems like Willow Garage has done with its research droid, M1 can use the simple, hackable and deceptively powerful Microsoft Kinect sensor system to give it both video capabilities–augmented with a high-resolution Net-connected camera–and also to give it 3-D depth perception.
M1’s being aimed at research applications at first, so unlike other similar android-ish robots it won’t be stealing your job quite yet, and its price tag of $340,000 for a user-customizable design isn’t going to make it that accessible. But what M1 does prove to us is that there’s a growing market for android robots being sold into universities and in-house research facilities around the globe. When these teams perfect their robot design, and publish research in how to best incorporate androids into modern life at work or home, that’s when the android revolution will really take off.
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